The staff of the rehab hospital wanted to show us around. Wait, what did they want me to see?
When we arrived at the rehab hospital in Lviv, Ukraine, twelve people stood on the front steps close to the front door. I thought to myself that it would be funny if that entourage was there to welcome us.
Ends up that they were all there to welcome us. I dubbed it a celebrity welcome, but without the fanfare or joy. There was a quiet desperation as they stood in front of us with an air of need as if they would not eat tonight if we didn’t give them food.
The mood was heavy.
A woman wearing a white medical coat over her clothes and comfortable shoes asked something in Ukrainian. I heard one word.
“No.” I smiled. I pointed to a Ukrainian woman with light brown hair. “Christina.”
Christina, a woman we had met thirty minutes ago, was along to make introductions. She worked at a different rehab hospital that didn’t need supplies. She knew that this newer center for wounded soldiers needed… everything.
We picked Christina up at her house and on the way she explained that since so many wounded soldiers were returning home from the war, all municipalities had to open rehab centers to treat them.
Before we began unpacking the supplies we brought, my eyes teared up. According to the UN’s statistics, Russian missiles strike 1 medical facility in the country on an average of every two days.
We were visiting a medical facility that hadn’t been bombed.
In this morbid and ongoing game of Russian Roulette with random bombings and deliberate air strikes, no facilities are safe havens. Medical facilities, schools, malls, apartment building and churches were bombed.
Yes. You are correct. Each bombing of civilians constitutes a war crime.
This hospital was not a save place. Not for the patients. Not for the staff. And certainly not for we visitors who brought supplies.
It wasn’t fear that made my eyes water, it was the unfairness of these daily war crimes: so many civilians and innocent people were hurt--every day. Old people. Children. Nursing mothers.
You know that saying, "All is fair in love and war?" It's not a true statement.
There are rules of war that all countries must abide by or be charged with war crimes.
Everything in this war reeks of war crimes.
Is it naïve of me to want to stop this war?
Through brute force and strength, Gavin and Haley went to the van and tugged and pulled until they untangled a stationary bicycle out from the tangle of equipment and wrestled it onto the pavement. A team of Ukrainian hospital staff stepped in and took over the heavy lifting.
It’s unfathomable that Luksaz and his team of packers managed to get 9 of these machines into the back of the van, along with a wheelchair, 20 boxes of food to be mailed, 100 KG of dog food, 25 grocery bags of food to be given to elderly people and many cases of cereal and canned foods.
Every available space in the van was filled with supplies to give out.
When I first saw the scratched-up antique-looking equipment, I thought the hospital might turn down the donation; surely, they wanted new and modern rehab equipment.
I imagined them shaking their heads and declining our gifts.
What would we do with them?
We’d have to find a landfill to discard them or tuck them away in some random woods. But it was quite the opposite, the staff swarmed the machines, pulling on levers, pushing switches and showing relief that they all worked.
These old machines were valuable to them.
The parking lot resembled a gym with equipment spaced out in front of the steps like an offering to some distant God: Surely this equipment will make you happy.
A man in a suit stepped forward and said the kinds of things that men in suits say. Since he spoke in Ukrainian, I smiled and nodded, out of respect.
Luksaz whispered to me, “He is the mayor of this district in Lviv and is grateful that we brought supplies.”
Since Haley is a Ukrainian-American college student who speaks fluent Ukrainian, she didn’t need translation services. Jullia, being Ukrainian, understood. Luksaz’s Polish was enough to figure out what they said. And Gavin—originally from New Zealand but traveled here with an Irish passport—spoke fluent Polish, so he could also understand them as well.
I was the lone visitor in this team who spent the educational portion of our visit looking around. I didn’t mind. If I needed more information, I could ask.
We piled donations of bedding, food and cleaning supplies on the wheelchair while the staff talked quietly to each other as if they were going to start using these things this very afternoon.
A man with one arm joined the group. The women called out to him in Ukrainian. He stared intently at the machines as if he were visualizing himself using them.
They invited us inside and walked us down to the basement. We walked through rooms to get to other rooms that led to a rehab center, of sorts. Since I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I had time to look around.
I saw two machines in this first room. Since we brought nine more, their center just experienced a major growth spurt.
No wonder they were so relieved to get our gifts.
They walked us to another rehab room, this one included a bed for a soldier to lay on where he might learn to sit again with a system of pulleys.
Years ago I worked at a center in upstate New York that helped people recover from brain injuries. Their rehab department was filled with weights, machines, mats, beds and systems of pulleys that were modern and working and necessary.
This center looked like it was one hundred years older with rudimentary equipment spaced out around the room as if the real exercise was getting to the next station.
As we moved to the next area, we walked past a stretcher in the hallway that looked to be antique. It stood at attention ready to be put to use. Good thing that medical equipment made long ago withstood the test of time and could still be used.
I reminded myself that this center was in Lviv which is in western Ukraine. This is the modern part of the country. I wondered what hospitals in the eastern regions looked like.
Lviv is a city of about a million people. 200,000 of that number, or roughly 20%, is from displaced Ukrainians from Ukrainian war zones who moved to Lviv to escape the war.
The staff handed us yellow protective tops and helped tie them around us, put us on and elevator and pushed the button. Then they ran up the stairs while we rode up in comfort to the upper floors.
Did they think we couldn’t climb stairs?
We stood in a hall while they talked some more. One of the women stuck her head into a room, maybe to ask permission, then invited us inside.
I figured we were going to talk to doctors in the break room, or something.
This was a hospital room with two beds. Each bed had a soldier laying in it.
Young men. Sad. Bored. Hurting. No visitors in the room.
The woman leading the tour turned away from the soldiers and directed our attention to the small sink on the side of the room. She pointed to the basin and said something.
Luksaz asked Jullia to get a photo of the sink. He took one, too.
He told me that they needed newer basins for the sinks. He told her that he would bring 15 new basins on his next trip at the end of August.
I tried not to look at the young men in the beds, feeling like I was invading their privacy by being in their private room. But they didn’t seem to mind and then I remembered that when you are in the hospital, there is no privacy.
As we left them, I said “Goodbye. I wish you a speedy recovery and a lot of good luck.”
Their eyes perked up. They smiled.
Oh, right. I am American. They could tell that when I spoke. Our country has given so much to helping Ukraine fight this war. The soldiers smiled and waved to me as I left the room.
We entered several more rooms that had up to six beds. At one bed, a set of elderly parents sat next to their wounded soldier. The parents sat with tight faces and still bodies as if they didn’t want to disturb their son. Before we left I put my hands on my heart and bowed to them, they returned the gesture. I wanted to run over and hug them all, but I refrained.
We entered another room.
For some reason we stood in the final room a little longer. Two men were in bed. One was missing his left arm. The other was missing his right eye and left foot and his left leg was in traction. Not some fancy traction like I’ve seen before, just a metal bar connected to more bars that went into his leg.
Luksaz asked the soldiers what they needed. He could bring them a computer to help pass the time.
The older soldier said that he had a computer. The younger one said that he couldn’t see the computer screen and mostly spent his time listening to music.
The older one made a joke and the group laughed. The younger one didn’t laugh. He looked so uncomfortable.
Jullia asked if she could take a photo.
The younger one said no. The older one got out of bed, stood in the center of the room and put his arm around Jullia with his stump pointed away from her. His shirt said, “I’m Ukrainian”.
Feelings swarmed inside of me. These Ukrainian/European soldiers were not in the hospital due to ongoing medical issues. They were here to heal from being attacked while protecting their country.
The weight of the world sat on my chest. I wouldn’t cry until I got home. The unfairness of war was right here in this room. It was at this center where able-bodied people worked to help these men recover knowing that they could be bombed at any moment.
There was a large box of cookies that was half full next to the younger soldier. That must be how the blind man soothes himself, eating sugar.
My mind raced. How could I help this newly blind man? What would help pass the time and bring him relief from the pain? Audio books? A subscription to a music streaming service? Some kind of device that is set up for a blind person to surf the internet?
When we left, I gave my parting phrase in English. Both soldiers said goodbye to me in English and the blind man smiled.
I asked Luksaz what the men needed. He said they were waiting for prosthetic devices, but that they wouldn’t get them. One device cost over $3000 and there are many of thousands of wounded soldiers.
Later I asked Jullia how old she thought the men were. She said that the blind man was maybe 20, while the other man was closer to 30.
She connected to the older man through a social media site. When we were back in the van, she showed me a photo of him that was taken—a few months ago—back when he had two arms and smiled into the camera confidently.
I had to give up the notion that there was more I could do for these soldiers and the thousands of other soldiers that are injured and hoping for at the very least a partial recovery, especially not with the war ongoing.
What can I do?
I can write about them to humanize their fate. I can continue bringing supplies to the center. I can visit them. I can stand for Ukraine.
The hospital staff sent us with boxes of pizza and boxes of chocolate. They are giving us donations? You can't imagine how excited they were when we arrived and gave them cases of cereal.
Wouldn't the soldiers like the pizza?
Back in the van, we checked in with each other. Luksaz had sons that were a few years younger than the blind man, this was a heavy thing to see.
Jullia went inside her head. Sad. Almost listless. These were her people.
Gavin said that when the war started, he sent an email to the Ukrainian army saying that he was 55-year-old man who had never held a gun, but that he was so angry about the war he would gladly take up arms and join them.
He added that they never responded.
We all laughed.
He said that he might move to Krakow to help Ukrainian refugees.
I offered to set him up with the refugee center where Luda lives. They could use some free English lessons. And a kind man to play with the children who have few if any men around them.
I asked Haley how she was doing.
“I’m not going to cry until I get home later tonight.”
New here? Click below to get an email notification every time Holly writes. Leave a comment below. Or share with friends.
All proceeds from digital products
will be donated to Ukrainian refugees in Poland and/or helping battle extreme poverty in Ukraine.
If you liked this post, please share it.
Tag: @mshollywinter on Instagram
@mshollywinter on Facebook
@mshollywinter on Twitter
@mshollywinter on TikTok
Thanks so much!
Follow Holly on Instagram:
Follow Holly's Skin Talk Blog
Click here to see
ALL of Holly's Links
(C) 2023 by hollywinter.com and Holly Winter Huppert