'They needed my help:' Lafayette doctor returns to help war-torn Ukraine

·4 min read

LAFAYETTE, Ind. — One trip across the world to help thousands in need in war-torn Ukraine wasn't enough for Lafayette doctor Chris Brandenburg, as he just recently returned from his second trip to Lviv.

Brandenburg previously worked as an ER physician at St. Elizabeth's Medical Center for approximately 15 years before continuing his work at IU Arnett around 10 years ago. Now on a sabbatical from local hospital work, Brandenburg is focusing on missionary work; most recently in Lviv, Ukraine.

Chris Brandenburg (standing) speaking to other members of humanitarian aid organization Samaritan's Purse in the underground emergency field hospital in Lviv, Ukraine.
Chris Brandenburg (standing) speaking to other members of humanitarian aid organization Samaritan's Purse in the underground emergency field hospital in Lviv, Ukraine.

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In March, Brandenburg worked in an underground hospital for displaced Ukrainians and refugees. There, he saw first-hand the horrors of war through the patients he treated. Despite some sense or normal life returning to the far west parts of Ukraine, such as Lviv, Brandenburg said he saw many more patients during his second trip.

"I did similar to what I did my first trip," Brandenburg said. "It was mostly taking care of patients presented to our emergency field hospital in Lviv. And we were in an underground hospital outside of Lviv. And the majority of our patients were either internally displaced persons (IDP)'s (or) the people who had moved from the eastern part of Ukraine where the fighting was with the Russians and had moved into the western part of Ukraine which was safer. That's where I was at."

That sense of normal life extends to some people in western Ukraine visiting restaurants and the mall again, according to Brandenburg. However, the many patients Brandenburg saw were taking shelter in schools, churches, gymnasiums, universities and more after being displaced from their homes. As such, they lacked the necessary daily medicines and medical care they normally received at home.

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"I got to go out to those areas a couple times," Brandenburg said, "...probably three times I left the emergency field hospital underground to go out into these places where the IDPs were staying...And so most of them had a lot of medical problems. They may or may not have had their medications, they weren't able to see a doctor (or) go to the hospital (since they were displaced)."

Chris Brandenburg (right) examines an X-ray with another Samaritan's Purse physician.
Chris Brandenburg (right) examines an X-ray with another Samaritan's Purse physician.

Brandenburg stated the type of patient was generally the biggest different between his two visits: those who were actively wounded while fleeing versus those who have settled after being displaced and needed access to their daily medications.

In regards to why he decided to help in a country where active warfare was occurring not once but twice, Brandenburg stated that he is currently in a point in his career where he will go where needed.

"I just felt like, at this point in my career and life, if they needed my help, I was going to go," Brandenburg said. "My wife was the only person I gave the ability to say 'No, I don't think you should go.'...They called me and asked if I could come for a couple weeks...and my wife Rachel was okay with that. So I just felt like I had the time and I had the skill set, and if they had the need, then I wanted to go."

Brandenburg thinks his trips to Ukraine are done for now, but this could change depending on the situation in Ukraine.

"I'm not planning on (going back to Ukraine) right now," Brandenburg said, "and I do just think the stress on my wife and my family is a little bit more than I want to put them through. I was there for about seven weeks total out of the last 14 weeks...I'm monitoring what's happening there and what are their medical needs, and would consider it in the future, but certainly not in the short-term."

A look inside the emergency field hospital in Ukraine where Dr. Brandenburg worked.
A look inside the emergency field hospital in Ukraine where Dr. Brandenburg worked.

As the Lafayette citizen who arguably has the most direct experience with the war in Ukraine, Brandenburg reflected on the situation there.

"I think the most important thing to me is this is just a terrible unjust war," Brandenburg said. "There's people hurting and the fact that we can help — as you know, there's lots of ways to help... I heard so many heartbreaking stories but at the same time, there are so many things that just made you feel good about the world.

"...There really is an outpouring of love and people that are trying to help the Ukrainians. That's the impressive part to me."

Margaret Christopherson is a reporter for the Journal & Courier. Email her at mchristopherson@jconline.com and follow her on Twitter @MargaretJC2.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: Lafayette ER doctor took two trips to war-torn Lviv, Ukraine