Seattle nurse helps Ukraine refugees at Romanian border as crisis grows

A nurse from Seattle is on the frontlines of the Ukrainian refugee crisis, helping those who are trying to flee to neighboring Romania — a country which he fled as a refugee in 1989.

Ben Sterciuc, a geriatric specialist who runs Vital Solutions — a nonprofit organization he founded 10 years ago to provide accessible health care to impoverished communities in East Africa and Pakistan — is on the ground at the Romanian border. He spoke to Yahoo News about the current situation there.

Video Transcript

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BEN STERCIUC: I'm Dr. Ben Sterciuc with Vital Solutions from Seattle, Washington. I founded Vital Solutions about 10 years ago. I'm a geriatric specialist. That's what I do. I work with the elderly. In kind of a way to give back, we wanted to create this NGO, this nonprofit so that we can actually do more than just take care of ourselves and our family.

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I was born and raised in Romania, but I was also a refugee, as I had to flee communist Romania in 1989. I was able to escape the communist government, and was a refugee in Vienna, Austria. And from there, I actually was able to immigrate to the US.

So I've been in the US, in Seattle for about 32 years now. While I was in Africa last week, obviously I heard about Russia invaded Ukraine and that Ukrainian refugees were coming through the border into Romania, actually through the area where I was born and raised. And so I knew I had to come.

I am in the suburbs of the city Chernivtsi in Ukraine. We're about 50 kilometers inland in the country of Ukraine. And we just dropped off a lot of medical supplies and medications at a local hospital. And the doctor there was extremely grateful for everything that we brought. And now, we're dropping off a lot of over-the-counter medications, medical supplies, food. And I'll show you around a little so you can see exactly what we're doing and what's happening here.

As you can see, a lot of boxes with non-perishable food, incontinence supplies. And these are the actual bags that they're creating, they're putting together to take to the refugee camps around the city and around the country. A lot of canned food, non-perishable bags of beans and oil and all kinds of things. As you can see, this is the van that-- one of the 10 that we bring stuff in.

The little box that you see right here in the corner are actually kind of first aid and first handful of items that every refugee will receive from our teams. We have teams from Romania partnering with teams from Ukraine to help those that are actually in transit going towards the border with Romania. It takes many days for them to come there.

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There is a sense of shock. Probably that's the most prevalent response and facial expression that I see. Even as we drove into Ukraine, there were kilometers of just cars waiting in line and thousands of people physically standing in queue, in line to enter, go through the border and walk into Romania. It was mostly women and children. Children are puzzled and simply unaware of what's happening, shocked that they were forced to leave their homes. And mothers are crying. It's just simply difficult for them to know what's going to happen, even from day to day.

Many of these mothers and children have been waiting in line for days. For days. It's just-- just really difficult to see. I've seen a lot in my life all over the world, but this is just incredibly difficult to see because they had to just drop everything and leave. They-- some have suitcases, some a carrier for their pet, maybe a handful of clothes in a little bag or just the clothes on their back and, you know, covered in blankets. And there is a feeling of fear and despair that I'm seeing on the faces of the people that we pass by that we help. It's hard to describe.

So right now, financial resources are most needed because it just takes a long time to send, to ship, to fly anything from the US to Romania or to Ukraine. In the future, we're planning to bring medical teams, building teams, counselors. In the future, we will need a lot of counseling for those that are just fleeing their country. Now, imagine mothers and children that will have to deal with this emotional trauma and with the devastation that they've experienced, the abandonment that the children are feeling. So counselors and emotional, psychological, spiritual support will be needed for months and probably years to come.

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