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A Florida doctor who was spending his retirement years teaching and volunteering recently returned to work after seeing the devastation caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Instead of returning to his private practice in Sarasota, Florida, however, Dr. Paul Runge flew thousands of miles to help Ukrainian newborns and infants.
“I wasn’t ready to just sit around and do nothing for the remaining part of my life,” he told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, during a phone interview while he was in Ivano-Frankivsk, a Western Ukrainian city. “I was sitting at home like everybody else, watching [the war] unfold and just wondering what I could do.”
Runge then reached out to some contacts in Western Ukraine and left for the war-torn country on July 4. During a 10-day visit, the retired ophthalmologist helped doctors throughout Ukraine.
Runge started his trip 80 miles north of Lviv, before he joined a children’s hospital neonatal intensive care unit in Ivano-Frankivsk. He also helped a neighboring military hospital.
“I was really excited when I realized that, No. 1, they wanted me, and No. 2, I could really be of help,” Runge said. “I don’t want to be like a bull in a China shop and tell everybody ‘hey, you gotta do it this way, that’s the way we do it.’ but I’ve really enjoyed being here.”
“(The doctors) are very enthusiastic. They’re not driven by money,” he added. “They’re wanting to do as good of a job as they possibly can for their patients. It’s such a unique and refreshing experience.”
The July visit was merely the beginning for Runge, who flew back to Ukraine on Sept. 10.
The board-certified ophthalmologist says he intends to spend the rest of the month in Ivano-Frankivsk, helping where he can and making a difference despite the ongoing war efforts.
“This morning we were awakened by air raid sirens, and when I arrived at the hospital, all the patients and staff were in the basement bomb shelter,” Runge said in a statement. “Nothing unusual transpired, and we were back to work in less than an hour.”
The fight for survival is evident throughout Ukraine and speaks to their determination to fend off their larger adversary.
“(Ukrainians) have a common cause. All they talk about is how the country has pulled together to defeat these tyrants. They’re not thinking that they’re anything but winning this war,” he said.
As for being able to help, Runge remains grateful: “I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.”
Russia first invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, in what many experts believed would be a swift victory. The Ukrainian Armed Forces have successfully defended their capital city of Kyiv, they have made progress in pushing Russian invaders back to their eastern border.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.