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The world recently marked one year since the Russia-Ukraine Crisis began. Humanity First was in Medyka on the Polish-Ukrainian border within three days.

In the early months, an estimated 3.7 million refugees had fled Ukraine for Poland and other nearby countries. As thousands of refugees per day crossed the border, Humanity First collaborated with UN agencies including WHO, WFP and OCHA, and disaster relief organizations Sauvetures Sans Frontieres (SSF) and Intersos to provide medical and food assistance.

Two US physicians from the HF volunteer team on the border one year ago reflect on the continued crisis.

Dr. Qureshi: “So many women and children were coming over the border. At that time, Ukraine was not allowing men to leave, unless they were elderly or ill. I had not seen anything like this in the past. Usually, you see the whole family leaving together. The vulnerability and the difficulties that they were facing was very heartbreaking. Every disaster has its own realities. In this case, the fact that families were separated, was one of the important realities in this disaster that has not been the case in other disasters.”

HF partnered with the Polish Red Cross to serve 99,000 warm meals, hot drinks, and breakfast sandwiches to people waiting in long queues for help. The HF global community supported our team with donated medicines and equipment, as well as funds to distribute hygiene kits, mobile sim cards, and to-go food items.

Dr. Qureshi: “We gave out care packs to families and toys for the children. We operated a coffee stand with warm food that we gave to everyone crossing the border. Many times, that was their first warm meal that they had since leaving their homes.”

Dr. Fine: “One of the beautiful things was people who were there just to help [the refugees] carry their luggage. Humanity First volunteers were making French Fries, and our partners were making pizza. Those little things matter, and to me, that was just the right way to be.”

HF physicians treated nearly 2,400 patients, most commonly hurting from fatigue, sore throat, and fever from their journey.

Dr. Fine: “I was asked to see a gentleman in his seventies, who told me that he had lost his hearing. And so, I sat and talked to him. He told me that he had been in the train station when it took a missile, and the person in front of him died, and the first person behind him died, and somehow, he emerged unscathed. Unscathed, at least physically.

As we were talking, it was pretty clear that he could hear perfectly well. I think he was experiencing a kind of emotional transference. He was emotionally still in shock that it felt like nothing he was hearing was real. I’ll never forget that conversation.”

Dr. Qureshi: “There was a lot of primary care chronic disease management. People who had left Ukraine in a hurry, they did not have basic medicines like blood pressure or insulin.”

Dr. Fine: “On my last day at Medyka, a woman hobbled into the tent, limping on a kind of walking crutches that were not really meant to bear weight on. She looked like she was in tremendous pain.

She said that while running away from the Russian bombing in Mariupol, she tripped and fell. A first aid person identified that she had a broken leg. They put her in a splint, not a true cast. She’d been walking on a newly broken leg this way for 3 days, and the bandage was so tight that it was cutting into her skin.

We quickly replace the bandage and got her a wheelchair. She was there with her whole family, and the moment she got in the wheelchair was a moment of relief, of joy. I think she suddenly understood, maybe she was safe. It was just a moment I’ll never forget.”

Humanity First is responding to flooding in Malawi, drought in Northern Kenya, tornadoes in the U.S. and the earthquake in Türkiye and Syria.

Dr. Qureshi: “We need to remember the terrible consequences of this war even while there are other disasters happening around the world.

As Humanity First, we provide for suffering people, no matter where they are… and we hope this war will end.”

Dr. Fine: “Having Humanity First be there, with other organizations there together, gives me hope for the universe. When the need arises, you know I’ll come in a second. I just came away with endless respect for Humanity First, and its people.”

Dr. Mahmood Qureshi is an internist and physician of geriatric medicine. He is the volunteer VP of Disaster Relief for Humanity First USA and Humanity First International.

Dr. Michael Fine is a family physician, writer, community organizer, and Chief Health Strategist for the City of Central Falls, RI.