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War in Ukraine: Local doctor will ‘go over there with my own two hands and make sure fewer people die’

Providence Holy Family physician Kyle Varner, center, helps load trauma-focused medical supplies into his car Wednesday at Holy Family Hospital.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Providence Holy Family physician Kyle Varner, center, helps load trauma-focused medical supplies into his car Wednesday at Holy Family Hospital. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

One of Spokane’s own is heading to Ukraine’s border to help treat the casualties as Russia wages war on the nation and its civilians suffer injuries and death.

Dr. Kyle Varner, a physician and hospitalist at Holy Family Hospital, leaves for Kraków, Poland, on Sunday.

He will be gone for about a month to deliver donated medical supplies at the Poland-Ukraine border, help organize clinics and potentially set up a field hospital for refugees fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.

Varner said what’s happening in Ukraine is an “ongoing genocide,” and while he has no personal ties to the conflict abroad, he feels obligated to respond with his skill set.

“I don’t need to know anyone personally to know that I need to do everything I can to stop it,” Varner told reporters Wednesday.

When Varner realized he needed to do something, he first checked in with his coworkers. In order to go abroad, he needed his shifts covered.

His coworkers and fellow physicians stepped up immediately, he said. By giving up their days off to cover his shifts, they are contributing to the cause, Varner added.

One coworker drove to Lacey, Washington, on her day off to pick up medical supplies Providence donated once Varner told his bosses he was going.

Molly Toner, a nurse in the COVID ward at Holy Family, saw Varner’s Facebook post asking for someone on their day off to drive across the mountains to pick up boxes of supplies this week. Toner answered the post and filled her trunk with large boxes.

“All of us do this because we like to help people, and this is a global opportunity to help people,” Toner said. “And we love what we do, and we’re thankful to have someone like Dr. Varner who can act for those who want to help.”

Varner plans to check bags full of the medical supplies donated by Providence. They are supplies intended to save lives: surgical instruments, chest tubes, vascular clamps and airway devices.

When he arrives in Kraków, Varner will meet a friend from Germany who has already driven to Poland. From there, they will deliver the medical supplies to the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces at the Poland-Ukraine border. Then, Varner will meet with a co-founder with MedGlobal, an organization that provides medical care in countries in conflict around the world.

His hope is they can work with the Polish government to set up clinics or a field hospital to treat refugees escaping Ukraine.

Varner has worked with MedGlobal on the Colombia-Venezuela border every few months since 2019. He said his work with refugees has been the most meaningful work he’s done, and he knows his skill set is needed in Ukraine .

“I know I can go over there with my own two hands and make sure fewer people die,” he said.

Varner likely will be overseas for about a month; he’s scheduled to return to work at Holy Family in mid-April. He said other doctors, nurses and medics likely will be needed abroad as the conflict continues.

The local physician said he is nervous, as there’s obviously a risk going near a war zone.

“Being afraid or knowing there’s danger is never, ever a reason not to do the right thing or back down,” Varner said.

While he does not know all of what his trip will entail, he hopes to establish care and provide medical services to Ukrainians injured in the war.

“I am grateful to be in a position where I can go and help out,” Varner said.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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