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The organization's global ambassador recalls a country filled with hospitable people proud of their heritage.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Joe DiCarlo, a global ambassador for Tigards Medical Teams International, was on hand at the organizations warehouse on Wednesday as volunteers stacked 26 wooden pallets of mixed medical supplies headed for Ukraine.A Medical Teams International global ambassador familiar with Ukraine says the Ukrainians he's talked with are hoping and praying the Russian invasion will end soon — but they are preparing for the worst.

Joe DiCarlo, a global ambassador for the Tigard-headquartered faith-based nonprofit, was on hand at the organization's warehouse on Wednesday as volunteers stacked 26 wooden pallets with mixed medical supplies headed for Ukraine.

Those supplies included sutures, surgical kits, medical drapes and more. An itemized list shows that 108,281 bandages and 40,424 needles or syringes are headed to the Eastern European country.

Donated by Providence Health Systems, Becton Dickson and Medline, the medical supplies will be distributed to health centers through a partnership with the Ukrainian American Cultural Association of Oregon and Washington, a nonprofit group based in neighboring Beaverton.

"We've worked with them before, many times," said DiCarlo. "They are a great partner and they can get the supplies in."

At least for now, Medical Teams' supplies aren't going to the front lines. They're headed for central Ukraine, where Russian troops have yet to advance as of Wednesday, March 2.

Russia's bombardment has been heaviest in cities like Kyiv, the capital, and Kharkiv, the largest city in Ukraine's Russian-speaking east. Ground forces Wednesday claimed control of Kherson, a major city in southern Ukraine, and have gained ground around Kyiv and the southeastern port of Mariupol as well.PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Rick Espenscheid of Helvetia, a volunteer with Medical Teams International, carries a box of medical supplies that was donated to be sorted through before being packaged and sent to Ukraine Wednesday.

Ukraine is the largest county situated entirely within Europe, bordering the Black Sea to the south. It's surrounded on three sides by Russia and Belarus, whose autocratic rulers have been increasingly dismayed by the former Soviet republic's emergence as a modern democracy with aspirations to join the European Union and NATO.

In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine after popular protests ousted pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, annexing the Russian-speaking Crimean Peninsula and propping up separatist insurgencies in the Donbas region along the Ukraine–Russia border. That attack was much more limited in scope than the full-scale invasion that began in late February, the goal of which appears to be to depose Ukraine's democratically elected pro-Western government.

DiCarlo has been going back and forth to Ukraine since the 1990s. He previously worked serving pastors in Ukraine and at Donetsk Christian University, located in the disputed Donbas region. He describes Ukraine as a fantastic place with hospitable people who are proud of their heritage.PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Pallets of medical supplies in the Tigard warehouse of Medical Teams International were ready to be shipped off to Ukraine Wednesday.

DiCarlo was recently in contact with Ukrainian pastors, whom he said are staying safe in the basements of their churches, which double as bomb shelters. Many have taken in congregants and neighbors as well since Russia began striking Ukraine with artillery and missiles early on the morning of Feb. 24 (Kyiv time).

On Tuesday, he talked with one of those pastors, Nikolai.

"They have no gas for cooking or heating and it's winter there," DiCarlo said. "He is grateful that they can go to the store, although there was no bread, but they were thankful they could get some things."

During yesterday's call, DiCarlo said Nikolai related to him that his son asked, "'Will the war end tomorrow, Papa?' and you know, there's no answer. How do you answer?"

DiCarlo said while the Ukrainian people are facing a horrific situation, they are showing strength and resolve, with pastors continuing to serve their communities, he said.

Having been involved with Medical Teams International for more than two decades, DiCarlo said the goal of the organization is not only to meet the physical needs of those involved in world disasters, but also to meet their emotional, psychosocial and spiritual needs.

DiCarlo said he'd love to return to Ukraine at some point, but for now, he'd be happy to travel to Poland, which has taken in thousands of refugees fleeing Ukraine since Russia began its assault.

One cultural remembrance DiCarlo fondly remembers during his visits to Ukraine came from a trip he took to the region following the all of the Berlin Wall. Each time DiCarlo would visit a pastor and his wife, he would hand the woman wrapped gifts containing coffee and various foodstuffs. He said she would take them each time and place them in the cupboard without opening them.

After this happened several times, DiCarlo finally asked the pastor's son why his mother didn't open the gifts immediately.

"Oh, she would never open it in front of you, because that would give more attention to the gift than the gift-giver," explained the son. "She'll take it into the bedroom at night, open it, and then she'll greet you in the morning with a kiss.'"

And that's exactly what happened, DiCarlo said.PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Carol Willeford, left, a retired psychologist from Wilsonville, and Marilyn Rudin, a retired pulmonologist from Lake Oswego, both who are volunteers with Medical Teams, sort through medical supplies Wednesday that were donated before being packaged and sent to Ukraine.

On Thursday, March 3, Roger Sandberg, Medical Teams International vice president, heads to Warsaw, Poland, to assess how the organization can provide medical care for displaced Ukrainians.

To donate to Medical Teams International, visit medicalteams.org.


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