Durango man Daniel Bergman’s nearly two-month trip to Ukraine to deliver medical aid to refugees was far from his first humanitarian effort, but it was one of his most memorable ones.
On March 3, Bergman boarded a Douglas DC-8 airplane owned by Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization Bergman has volunteered with for years. Its destination was Poland, and Bergman was joined by staff members who he helped load up a Tier 1 field hospital, he said.
The aid organization had five different remote clinics stationed across Ukraine as well as a field hospital in Lviv, Ukraine, just across the Polish border. He said for security purposes, the locations of field clinics aren’t identified.
He also helped a mobile medical unit consisting of himself, a doctor and some translators. They visited refugee hubs, hosted a clinic for a day and moved on, he said.
Most of the time, the injuries he treated were three to four days old.
He treated refugees with wrist, ankle and knee injuries suffered while fleeing from advancing Russians – missile attacks and homes getting shelled in the middle of the night, he said.
“Running down stairs when there’s no electricity or you’re not turning on the lights because you don’t want to draw attention to yourself,” he said. “So lots of fall injuries from running, tripping over curbs and stairs and all the various rubble that might be around.”
He provided pharmaceuticals to diabetics who didn’t have time to pack their bags before escaping. People would often have nothing but the clothes on their backs, a spare pair of underwear and maybe a backpack.
Bergman and the others he worked with also served as “conduits” for people to get back into Ukraine’s health care system.
In the Ukrainian health care system, everyone has their own family doctor, who under normal circumstances would be the one to refer someone for more specialized care.
“Well, when you flee Kharkiv and your doctor’s fled (to) somewhere else, you don’t have that ability to get some of the specialized care,” he said.
He said Ukraine has great hospitals and doctors. His biggest contribution with Samaritan’s Purse was providing “push packs,” bundles of medical supplies they sent to hospitals so the doctors there had what they needed to care for their patients.
The “push packs” contained pharmaceuticals and casting and bandage materials, he said.
“The Ukrainian health system is doing amazing,” he said. “For a lot of places that Samaritan’s Purse goes, we are going to developing nations where health care and health care delivery is a struggle. That’s not the case in Ukraine.”
Bergman went to Ukraine to lend medical aid to anyone caught up in the Ukraine-Russia conflict. But he wasn’t just treating physical wounds and medical conditions.
“I talked with a lot of patients,” he said. “And it seemed like with this deployment, even more than treating injuries or looking at their medical problems or issues, a lot of it was just having someone that could be with them and let them tell their story, and just listen.”
He saw a lot of tragedy.
“Lots of people that are very, very hurt, that are broken,” he said. “War is terrible. What people can do to each other – it’s just hard to deal with sometimes.”
He said people felt grief and a sense of loss. Someone is trying to take their country from them, he said. Some people would ask him why they lost their home, their family or their friends. Bergman didn’t have answers.
“But I do know that it’s OK to hurt and it’s OK to feel sad,” he said. “And I can love you where you’re at and let you know that there is somebody who does care and wants to be a help for you.”
Bergman said he was impressed and humbled to see the resilience of the Ukrainian people. He witnessed people at refugee hubs, bus stations and train stations, asking strangers if they needed a place to stay. He said churches across the country were taking in as many people as they could feed and shelter.
“And it’s the same in Poland,” he said. “They’re doing an amazing job with the church and the Polish people are just stepping up.”
As for the war itself, Bergman said he likes to keep himself out of politics.
“I know that I’m called to help people and to be where broken and hurting people are,” he said. “And helping them in Jesus’ name. Aside from that, I don’t really need to get involved in the rest of it.”
When he served in Iraq in 2017 he treated ISIS members who were taken to the hospital where he was stationed. He said he treated them with the same love, care and compassion as he would anyone else. And if he would have come across injured Russian or Ukrainian soldiers, he would have treated them the same way, he said.
Bergman said his experiences abroad with Samaritan’s Purse, which he’s been with since 2017, have been “terrible and amazing at the same time.” He served in the United States Army for nearly 13 years and had served in Iraq by the time he decided he wanted out.
But in 2017, he was back in a field hospital outside Mosul, Iraq. This time, he was with Samaritan’s Purse, not the armed forces.
He said he’d known of the organization through Operation Christmas Child. He jokingly told his wife, “I can go back to Iraq as a missionary.” A few days later, she told him she’d been praying about it and thought he should go.
“Just a series of events, like I shouldn’t have been able to get the time off, a lot of things. I think God was speaking to it and saying yep, you’re supposed to go,” he said.
He said his work through Samaritan’s Purse helped him work through his own post-traumatic stress disorder and things he had struggled with for years.
“Samaritan’s Purse, they do a great job,” he said. “They coordinate with a lot of people. If you’re looking for a way to give, it’s a great organization that’s doing a lot of really good things.”
Bergman has been going on mission trips since he was 16, he said. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he worked as a flight nurse on helicopters. He took up knife crafting to find an outlet for relief early into the pandemic.
He said his grandmother was a big inspiration for his faith in God. She worked with a man named “Pastor Adams” who helped her smuggle Bibles past The Iron Curtain, risking arrest and imprisonment or worse.