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Minnesota professor creates nonprofit to provide medical supplies to Ukrainians

ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Paul Gavrilyuk sleeps about four hours a night.

It’s a miracle he gets any sleep. This native of Ukraine and professor of theology at Saint Thomas University in Saint Paul works around the clock to help his native country, which he left in 1993, but where his family and friends still live there.

A friend is an academic colleague who picked up a military rifle to help defend towns and villages from fierce and relentless attacks by Russian forces who were ordered on February 24 to invade the country by Russian President Vladimir Putin .

Gavrilyuk’s friend is his age, 50, and he has four children. He serves in what Gavrilyuk calls a “sniper unit” of Ukrainian Civil Defense Volunteers.

The two professors often text each other and sometimes talk on the phone.

Hearing daily about the conflict, Gavrilyuk thinks of joining the fight himself. But he had a better idea. It’s less risky, which makes his wife, Eugenia, happy. And, a higher reward. Much higher, he thinks.

He builds on something he started in 2015 after the Russians invaded Ukraine to annex Crimea. He created an organization called “Rebuild Ukraine” to raise funds for much-needed supplies like tourniquets and prescription drugs and then deliver them to Ukrainian hospitals.

Although he continues to teach at St. Thomas, nearly every other moment of his watch is devoted to Rebuilding Ukraine. The organization’s logo features the letter “U” in blue, surrounding a yellow bird: a phoenix – a bird whose meaning in Greek mythology is “rising from the ashes”. Blue and yellow are the national colors of Ukraine.

“I measure my life in tourniquets,” Gavrilyuk, who is Eastern Orthodox, said in a March 30 interview with The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “We have the capacity to send about 5,000 tourniquets to Ukraine every week.”

Tourniquets are medical devices used to stop blood flow by compressing veins and arteries, often as an emergency measure to keep a person alive. During military conflicts, tourniquets are used in the field and may be the only way to prevent fatal blood loss.

“We basically asked ourselves the question: what product can we provide to maximize the chances of saving a life in Ukraine? ” he said. “We want to participate in God’s mission to save lives.

As soon as the Russians invaded Ukraine in February, Gavrilyuk’s organization stepped up to raise funds and deliver tourniquets and other supplies in anticipation of the violent military conflict that followed.

So far, Rebuild Ukraine has introduced 2,500 tourniquets in the country, and Gavrilyuk hopes the efforts will not only continue, but intensify.

“The hope is to send 10,000 more next month,” he said. “We are really talking about easily 1,000 injured (Ukrainians) per day. So that means if I had 7,000 tourniquets to pump around the country every week, I’d be a very happy man.

His organization has 100 volunteers who live and work in two major Ukrainian cities – including Kyiv – to distribute donated supplies to hospitals and to the front lines of battle. He has about 15 volunteers in the United States; some of them are in the Twin Cities.

Gavrilyuk is also working on manufacturing bulletproof vests that will be shipped overseas and delivered to Ukrainian civilian defenders. He also recently uncovered another source for these vests – police departments who have “decommissioned” bulletproof vests due to their age.

He began contacting the police and said the response was encouraging.

“I want to thank the police chiefs, especially in Wisconsin and Texas,” he said. “What I wrote was a crazy request: Could you supply decommissioned police vests to Ukraine? They immediately replied, ‘Absolutely, yes. It would be an honor, in fact, to do so.

Gavrilyuk also decided on a food that would help Ukrainians: beef jerky. Beef is abundant in Ukraine and neighboring countries, and jerky is highly nutritious and easily transportable, he said.

Volunteers were already hard at work making it and distributing it to civilians and military.

He described one volunteer in particular – a woman who lives in Ukraine but is far from current military combat zones.

This volunteer is “drying meat in her house (and) is also sheltering 20 refugees”, he said. “And, her young husband, 25, is fighting (against the Russians). So the husband is fighting, the wife is looking after 20 refugees and producing over a hundred pounds a week of jerky for us.

He works hard to solicit donations for Rebuild Ukraine by traveling to other cities such as Chicago and New York and creating a website: restart-ua.org.

Compassionate action is Ukraine Rebuild’s raison d’être, he said.

“There is no endgame to what Putin is doing,” he said. “The Ukrainians are paying with the lives of civilians and the lives of its military and volunteer defense units. And, it’s awful. It is a very high price. And I think it’s important that the world not only admire Ukrainian bravery, but also support it with prayer and compassionate action.

Gavrilyuk’s wife was born in Russia, but she feels the same way about Putin’s attempt to take over Ukraine as a husband.

“When all these disasters started happening, not only me, (but) all of my Russian-born Russian friends who identify as Russian, felt the same, almost physical, feeling of nausea and disgust,” he said. said Eugenia, 57, a resident of Moscow. native who, like her husband, teaches in the theology department of the University of Saint-Thomas.

“It is harmful, as if you were poisoned. It’s a feeling of deep shame,” she added.

Rebuild Ukraine is above all her husband’s business, Eugenia fully supports him.

The war in Ukraine “is very difficult for me,” said Paul Gavrilyuk. “My elderly parents are now refugees. My great-aunt, who is 98… is a refugee (now living) in Lithuania.

For him, the balance sheet of the Russian invasion is simple.

“They are bombing civilians,” he said. “These are serious war crimes. … It’s ruthless and it’s a genocide of the whole culture.

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Hrbacek is a photographer/reporter at The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Joan J. Dean

The author Joan J. Dean