Maumee-Area Humanitarian Team Travels To Ukraine Border On Medical Aid Mission

The four-member humanitarian team that is delivering medical aid to refugees in Ukraine met at Dr. Richard Paat’s medical office in Maumee on April 6 to gather supplies and pack them into eight duffel bags weighing 50 pounds each. Pictured in the basement (from left) are Myra Paat, registered nurse; Dr. Richard Paat, internal medicine physician affiliated with McLaren St. Luke’s Hospital; Dr. Adam Nofziger, emergency medicine specialist; and Dr. Svitlana Zhukivska, family care physician affiliated with The University of Toledo Medical Center. MIRROR PHOTO BY MIKE McCARTHY

BY MIKE McCARTHY | MIRROR EDITOR — A Maumee-area medical team is on the ground and somewhere near the border of Ukraine and Hungary this week on a humanitarian mission to deliver badly needed medical supplies, medicine and surgical equipment to Ukrainian refugees suffering in the aftermath of the Russian bombardment of Ukrainian cities over the past several weeks.

Dr. Richard Paat, who practices internal medicine and is affiliated with McLaren St. Luke’s Hospital in Maumee, is spearheading the four-person mission with funding from the SCORE (Special Commission on Relief and Education) charitable foundation formed by FAT (Filipino Association of Toledo), an Ohio nonprofit organization founded in 1978. 

The team will be working in tandem with Hungarian Baptist Aid, a large relief agency based in Hungary. Finding this group was vital to the success of the mission, according to Dr. Paat, because “we needed an organization on the ground to help with logistics once we are there.”

Joining Paat will be his wife, Myra, a registered nurse; Dr. Adam Nofziger, a 2007 University of Toledo Medical College graduate and emergency medical specialist for the past 15 years; and Dr. Svitlana Zhukivska, a family physician affiliated with The University of Toledo Medical Center who was born and raised in Ukraine before emigrating to the United States 18 years ago to practice medicine.

When asked about the safety of her relatives in Ukraine, Dr. Zhukivska said that she has not heard from her husband’s cousin and his family in Mariupol since March 3. Other members of her family have stayed in western Ukraine and have been forced to take shelter in basements when the sirens warn of incoming Russian artillery.

Dr. Nofziger has been on 27 previous humanitarian missions, about half of them with Dr. Paat, and this will be his first trip to Ukraine. 

When asked what motivated him to make these trips, Nofziger said, “Realistically, I went into medicine because I planned to do trips like this. I wanted to do something to be able to give back and make a difference and figure out a way to help more people.”

“One nice thing about emergency medicine is that we learn all the techniques and skills that can be used everywhere and have free scheduling that we can arrange for these trips,” Nofziger stated.

On the evening of April 6, this group of four was joined by a handful of young medical volunteers at Paat’s Maumee office to help the team pack for the trip. Volunteers helped pack eight 50-pound duffel bags, loaded to capacity with various medicines, medical supplies and surgical equipment. 

Each member of the team was allowed to check two bags apiece for the international flight, and special care was taken to distribute the medicines and medical supplies evenly among the eight bags in case one or more of the bags were misplaced or stolen on the trip.

The group flew from Chicago to Warsaw to Budapest on Tuesday. Once on the ground, the hope was to get the supplies into the hands of Ukrainian doctors, many of whom have been working out of the basements of their local hospitals due to incessant Russian missile attacks. The team is expected back in the United State on Friday.

Officially, Paat’s team is to work from within the borders of Hungary, but there may be a chance that the team could venture into the city of Berehove in western Ukraine, not far from the Hungarian border. This prospect will depend upon the reliability of European contacts and the continued safety of the region. 

Since the primary goal of the mission is to get these medical supplies into the hands of Ukrainian medical personnel, Paat’s team will be working with Ukrainian relief non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who are scheduled to take the duffel bags from the team and deliver them to the proper personnel.

The second objective of the trip, Paat stated, is of a fact-finding nature to gather information on the pressing needs of the Ukrainian refugees so that future humanitarian visits can be more productive.

“The Ukrainians and the people in Poland have done an excellent job of protecting the refugees,” said Paat, “On the other side of the border, there is a huge internally displaced refugee population with a lot of people who don’t want to leave Ukraine. They want to stay in their own country.” 

If all goes well, a second more expansive trip from Paat and his volunteers could take place as early as May. 

“The ultimate goal is to bring back a larger team,’’ said Paat. “We have been doing this for a number of years, so that team would include 12 to 15 people, including seven or eight of us who can speak Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and Hungarian as well.”

With a large Hungarian population in Toledo, Paat has utilized some of those contacts along with those offered by Rotary International and Catholic Charities to help with the success of this mission.

The SCORE organization has secured over $100,000 worth of medical supplies, including $19,000 in medicine purchased at cost from the McLaren St. Luke’s Hospital pharmacy. Tatyana Barkhimer is the St. Luke’s Hospital pharmacist and is also a native of Ukraine. She has collected toiletries and made several self-care kits for Ukrainian refugees.

Paat is a veteran of 90 international humanitarian missions, including those in Honduras, Guatemala, Haiti, Africa, Indonesia and the Philippines. He says that despite facing the enormity of these sad and nearly hopeless situations, “the goal is to do what we can do.”

Paat’s own father was a refugee for six months in the Philippines after the Japanese invaded the country in World War II, so this family legacy helps to fuel his passion to help other refugees.

Team members pay their own way on these humanitarian missions, using their own vacation time to help those in need.

Those who want to help may send donations to SCORE so that the organization can purchase future medical supplies for the Ukrainian refugees. The phone number is (419) 865-7448 and the website can be found by visiting www.scorefat.com.

“Toledo is a wonderful, generous community,” said Paat. “The people in this area have responded to disasters from all over the world.”

What else can people do to help?

“Lots of prayers,” he said.

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