BILLINGS — Dr. Olga Lutsyk, a Billings doctor with St. Vincent Healthcare, is back in Montana from a humanitarian mission at the Ukrainian-Polish border.
“It was heartbreaking to see so many lives that were destroyed,” Lutsyk said.
She has a perspective of the war in Ukraine that few Montanans have. She spent 10 days on the Ukrainian-Polish border helping refugees with the non-profit Crisis Response International.
“Basically, just explaining to them, welcome to Poland, you’re safe here and we will help you. We provided them with whatever was necessary,” Lutsyk said.
Lutsyk says she met several people who fled Ukraine with nothing but the shirts on their backs.
“It was very cold in the border, it was 23 degrees and people were coming in sweatshirts, just holding kids in their hands,” said Lutsyk.
Ukrainian men are required to stay in Ukraine to fight the Russians, so most of the refugees are women and children.
Although Lutsyk says many of the people she has encountered don’t like that description.
“They said we’re not refugees, we’re just going to live here for a little bit until the war will be over, and then we’re going home,” Lutsyk said.
The border may seem like a safe end to a long journey, but Lutsyk learned that’s not necessarily true. Unfortunately, another problem has arisen.
“There is a lot of human trafficking on the border, where basically people just disappeared cause the men are left behind,” Lutsyk said.
Lutsyk says that she and fellow volunteers focused on what they could do, handing out emergency blankets and clothes. She also gave medical assistance whenever she could.
Lutsyk and the team delivered supplies, and aid in the form of money raised by the St. Vincent Foundation here in Montana.
Tyler Wiltgen is the executive director of the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation.
“We were able to raise almost 30,000 dollars to send overseas,” Wiltgen said.
For Lutsyk, the mission was personal as she grew up in Ukraine and fled as a religious refugee in 1993.
Her son and daughter are there right now also helping those fleeing the violence.
“So they’re taking care of kids who were taken from Eastern Ukraine, from the orphanage,” Lutsyk said.
Her children are aiding orphans with special needs.
“A lot of them were dehydrated, malnourished, and in bad condition,” said Lutsyk.
Lutsyk may now be back in Montana, but she’s determined to return to Ukraine as soon as she can.
“After I’m done with my assignment here in May, I will have six weeks, six to eight weeks between my next job so I’m going there,” said Lutsyk.
In the meantime, she’s just praying for the war to end so that Ukrainians can return home and rebuild.
“They’re grateful they’re alive,” Lutsyk said.