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A Florida doctor, who had been spending his retirement years teaching and volunteering, recently returned to work after witnessing the devastation caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Instead of returning to his private clinic in Sarasota, Florida, Dr. Paul Runge traveled thousands of miles to help newborns and babies in Ukraine.
“I wasn’t ready to just sit around and do nothing for the rest of my life,” he told the Sarasota Herald Tribune during a phone interview while in Ivano-Frankivsk, a city in western Ukraine. “I was just sitting at home like everyone else, watching [the war] It unfolds and I just wonder what I can do.”
Runge then made contact with some contacts in western Ukraine and left for the war-torn country on July 4. During a 10-day visit, the retired ophthalmologist assisted doctors across Ukraine.
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Runge began his journey 80 miles north of Lviv, before joining the neonatal intensive care unit of the Children’s Hospital in Ivano-Frankivsk. He also helped a nearby military hospital.
“I was really excited when I realized that, No. 1, they want me, and No. 2, I can really be of help,” said Rong. “I don’t want to be like a bull in a store in China and say to everyone ‘Hey, you gotta do it this way, that’s how we do it.'” “But I really enjoyed being here.”
“(Doctors) are very excited. They are not paid by money,” he added. “They want to do as well as possible for their patients. It’s a unique and refreshing experience.”
The July visit was just the beginning for Runge, who returned to Ukraine on September 10.
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The board-certified ophthalmologist says he plans to spend the rest of the month in Ivano-Frankivsk, where he can help and make a difference despite the ongoing war effort.
“This morning we woke up to the sirens of air strikes and when I arrived at the hospital all patients and staff were in a basement shelter,” Rong said in a statement. “Nothing unusual happened, and we were back to work in less than an hour.”
The struggle for survival is evident throughout Ukraine and is evident in their determination to fend off their greatest opponent.
“(Ukrainians) have a common cause. All they talk about is how the country came together to defeat these tyrants. They only think that they are winning this war,” he said.
As for being able to help, Rong remains grateful: “I have to pressure myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.”
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Russia invaded Ukraine for the first time on February 24, in what many experts believed would be a quick victory. The Ukrainian armed forces successfully defended their capital, Kyiv, and made progress in pushing the Russian invaders to their eastern frontier.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.