By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
CANFIELD — When Canfield resident and Registered Nurse Kimberly Wiebe first signed up for Disaster Assistance Response Training (DART) through the organization Samaritan’s Purse (SP) last summer, the war in Ukraine was not on anyone’s radar. Now, one year later, the young nurse finds herself readying for her second deployment to Lviv, Ukraine, where she will once again work with Ukrainians fleeing devastation.
“Going to people in need to provide aid and share the gospel is something I have always dreamed of doing. As a little girl, I would read stories of women like Mary Slessor and Amy Carmichael, and dreamt of doing something like that someday,” said Wiebe, who went on to work as a Registered Practical Nurse before returning to school and graduating as a full RN.
“After I graduated last spring, the third wave of COVID hit and it led my hospital to ask for nurses to volunteer to work in ICU. It gave me confidence as a nurse and I learned a lot, something that God clearly worked out with perfect timing in my life.”
Wiebe would go on to serve in Lviv from March 6 to April 3. She described her initial feelings on that first deployment, saying, “I was both nervous and excited to go to Ukraine, since it was my first deployment with SP and I had definitely never nursed in a tent hospital before.”
She said her faith helped give her strength: “I was reminded of that almost daily, as I saw God working out the details to prepare me for everything I came across. One of the main differences was the need to stay flexible and be ready to help wherever the need was.”
Wiebe’s position allowed her to provide care on the go to people as they passed by, “some of them rushing through their visit in order to catch their next train or bus.”
Many of Wiebe’s patients came in with anxiety, asking to have their blood pressure taken or just wanting a checkup because their prescription medications were unavailable due to the war.
She added, “Some had burns and minor wounds that they had been unable to have treated until arriving in Lviv. Others had colds and flus, just needing some Tylenol or antiemetics.”
She described the attitude of the Ukrainians she encountered as “defiant, outraged that anyone would do this, and certain that Ukraine would win the war.”
Onsite translators helped Wiebe and other foreign helpers “bridge the communication gap” on a number of critical issues.
“The refugees were in survival mode, just looking for a place to stay. They were focused on just getting through the next few hours and days. Many were so thankful for care and reassurance, crying with gratitude when we asked if we could pray with them,” said Wiebe. “It was heartwarming to see how the church stepped up to network and opened their doors for people to stay. One woman came in at 3 a.m., asking for a checkup and medication for a cold. She didn’t know where she could go. Our interpreter called her pastor and arranged for her to be picked up and given a place to stay at the church as soon as the curfew was over in the morning.”
Since her last deployment, Wiebe explained that air raid alarms have become less frequent, noting, “When I was there, we had at least one every night, and a couple times we had five in the daytime. Now there are a few days where there are no alarms.”
She added that there are fewer refugees passing through the city now, “but there is still a very large population in the city needing health care, especially since all elective surgeries have been cancelled by Ukrainian hospitals bracing for an influx of wounded civilians and soldiers.”
She said she has no serious safety concerns, as SP operates in the safer parts of Ukraine, and that security staff remain constantly aware of the situation, with an evacuation plan in place, if needed.
Wiebe touched on what her firsthand experiences have taught her: “Many volunteers who were helping coordinate efforts at the train station were those who had arrived in Lviv with the first group of refugees…. No one was more concerned about the loss of their job or business than they were about the state of their country. And there was no complaint about smaller injustices and issues.”
She continued, “What makes experiencing it firsthand different from watching the news is that you’re not just seeing the highlights and defining moments, but you’re there through the in-between. You take it moment by moment, and that helps it seem more like a normal experience. There’s time for laughter and building friendships, too.”
Wiebe wanted to pass along her belief that God is doing amazing work amidst the destruction in Ukraine: “Grace and love always show out stronger against a backdrop of fear and pain; kindness is more valuable when there is a real need for help.”
Her next deployment begins May 31 and runs until July 6. The word that seems most appropriate to describe her choice of actions, is simply, heroic. The Haldimand Press wishes Kim a safe and meaningful deployment.