By Owen Sexton / [email protected]
As the war in Ukraine rages into its second year and becomes increasingly politicized in the United States, Dr. Patrick Jung, who grew up in Oakville, has returned from spending three months volunteering at a hotel in Poland to provide primary medical care for Ukrainian refugees fleeing a Russian invasion.
The 39-year-old Washington native said politics played no part in her decision to volunteer.
“There are people who are suffering from circumstances they have no control over and those people are openly asking the world for help,” said Jung.
He said he felt a connection to the Ukrainians he met while in Poland.
“I think the Ukrainian people share our values and they want the same things we want. They want to be left alone. They want peace. They want freedom. And most of all, they want the opportunity to try to create a better life for their family,” Jung told The Chronicle.
She found out about the volunteer opportunity through a social media post where she connected with a retired emergency room doctor from Massachusetts who put her in touch with the Pastoral Family Care Foundation in Przemyśl, Poland.
The Pastoral Family Care Foundation is a Catholic volunteer organization under the Archdiocese of Przemyśl with several sites in Poland that provide housing, food, medical and social services to refugees. In addition, the foundation helps refugees contact Polish or other international organizations to continue providing assistance.
“When the war started, one person in particular, Father Marek (Machała), started raising funds and finding facilities and went from hosting a few families on site to owning several locations throughout southeastern Poland,” says Jung.
Using an old hotel in Zatwarnica, the Pastoral Family Care Foundation set up a place where Ukrainian refugees can rest. About 100 refugees called the hotel home while Jung was there.
While in hotels, refugees are waiting for the conflict in their country to end so they can return or move to other countries such as France, Germany or Italy to seek refuge.
Volunteer doctors are needed in the area at the moment as the nearest hospital from the hotel in Zatwarnica is about two hours away and even further for other specialist doctors.
While Jung specialized in psychiatric medicine, he was the primary primary care physician during his time there. Although he spends a great deal of time diagnosing and treating common medical problems such as a cold or earache, people with chronic illnesses and injuries are seen as well. Routine checks and checks are also carried out.
“As you can imagine, there are quite a number of mental health problems in that population,” said Jung.
Despite the isolation in the mountains of southeastern Poland, supplies are plentiful thanks to the support of the Polish Red Cross and other volunteer organizations which provide not only medical supplies but also food, clothing and school supplies.
Children staying in refugee hotels have the option of attending Polish or Ukrainian schools. Jung said children often attended both.
“In the evenings, we organize activities for the kids, including arts and crafts, singing or sometimes just sledding and playing in the snow. Local volunteer teachers, musicians and many others come regularly to give their time and try to restore the normal situation this family is facing,” said Jung.
Jung’s wife, Rhea, also joins him on the trip as she teaches languages and volunteers her time to help with children’s classes. And while the two of them were there to help the refugees, the refugees didn’t just sit around.
Most of the adults will volunteer in some form, from cooking to gathering firewood for the hotel’s central hearth.
“I don’t speak Polish or Ukrainian. One of the women who came in as refugees, she was an English teacher in Ukraine and very quickly picked up Polish and volunteered for our medical assistant-slash-interpreter,” said Jung. “He has been doing that since last April. He’s amazing.
The assistant, who goes by the name Liliia, will also help her fellow refugees navigate Poland’s social services system.
The US volunteers were not alone as Jung also saw volunteers from Italy, Germany and France while there.
He added that the experience was like no other in his life, and while he still loves his hometown, he feels that leaving Oakville is what got him this opportunity to volunteer.
“Going to school (in Oakville), I love it. It’s a small town. you know everyone. It is a very safe place to grow up, but it feels like your opportunities are limited,” said Jung.
After graduating and leaving Oakville to work briefly, he then went to medical school in the Caribbean at Saba University School of Medicine.
After Jung graduated, he returned to Washington briefly and interned in family medicine practice at Puyallup for a year before moving on to focus on psychiatry at the University of Maryland Medical Center where he has been for the last three years now.
And while many refugees have found shelter in places like hotels in Zatwarnica, Jung said there are many people with disabilities, and others who don’t have the means to leave, still stuck in Ukraine.
Some of the volunteers he worked with are still in Europe and are now helping others escape Ukraine.
Apart from that, the Pastoral Family Care Foundation still needs more volunteer doctors and donations.
Those interested in donating or volunteering can visit the Pastoral Family Care Foundation website at https://pfcf.pl/en/home-en/. Jung can be contacted directly at [email protected].