Ukrainian doctor visits Rifle’s Grand River Health, seeking medical supplies and medicine for front line

Ray K. Erku
Post Independent

RIFLE — Two Grand River Health doctors and their families went to Ukraine less than two months after Russia invaded. They brought with them medical supplies, $4,000 worth of pharmaceuticals and loads of critical knowledge.

Doctors Michael Duehrssen and Heath Cotter taught young Ukrainian combatants how to field dress wounds. They treated sick refugees. One of their daughters played harp for war-stressed orphans.

During this humanitarian mission, the two Rifle doctors worked side-by-side with two Ukrainian doctors: husband and wife Serhii and Yuliia Serdeniuk. 

Shortly after 6 p.m. Eastern European Time on Thursday, Dr. Serhii battled intermittent blackouts as he spoke with the Post Independent over WhatsApp, a free, international communication service.

A distorted man’s voice muffled over an intercom at Angelia Clinic, a private practice situated amongst a fleet of tall, block apartments about two miles east of the Dnipro River in Kyiv, while Dr. Serhii rationalized why he’s going to temporarily leave Ukraine for, of all places, Rifle, Colorado.

“I want to meet as (many) people as possible to ask you to support our service,” he said, calmly, in his best English. “Just yesterday our medical equipment for dentistry broke and we need $10,000 to replace that.”

Grand River Health Community Relations Director Annick Pruett said Dr. Serhii, who worked so closely with Cotter and Duehrssen, is slated to appear at Grand River Health’s Colorado River Room from 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday. Grand River Health is located at 501 Airport Road.

“He will be giving an update on the situation there as well as an update on the new clinic they have built,” she said.

Serhii is director of a mobile clinic unit. These rolling medical bastions visit and serve the war’s front lines, right now predominantly on the eastern edges of the country. He has so far conducted about 60-65 clinics, each one serving about 30 people daily.

Supplies are always dwindling, he said. Because Russia has changed its tactics from a failed blitzkrieg approach to a brutal war of attrition, hospitals, schools — even places where they make pharmaceuticals — continue to be targeted by long-range missiles.

“Because of war, Russians bombed two of the biggest factories who produced medication for Ukraine,” Dr. Serhii said. “Right now, even if we have money, we can’t buy it in Ukraine, because it’s not being produced for Ukraine.”

Dr. Serhii grew more animated as he continued to list off further medical needs. This includes anything and everything, from $20,000 for a new ultrasound machine and a newer battery, to psychological medications because anxiety amongst Ukrainians is now widespread. As blackouts continue, Dr. Serhii works with a flashlight, sometimes even just candlelight. 

Just this week, Dr. Serhii would take a car ride across Ukraine to Warsaw, Poland. From there, a flight to Munich, Germany. Then a flight from Munich to Frankfurt, Germany. From Frankfurt, Denver International Airport. From DIA, the ascent along Interstate 70 to Rifle.

Dr. Serhii then became apprehensive. He doesn’t want to leave for Colorado, he said. He would rather stay and help as many people as he can. At this moment he also remembered the help he received from foreign doctors, including Cotter and Duehrssen.

“These really brave guys, they brought big boxes full of medical supplies,” he said.

Doctors Cotter and Duehrssen once joined Dr. Serhii on a visit to a Ukrainian village near the Romanian border. A contingent of refugees had recently arrived from the war-torn city of Mariupol, one of the most heavily devastated cities of the entire war so far. 

Dr. Serhii said one of the refugees, a 13-year-old boy, had been bleeding heavily from his nose for half an hour straight. With Dr. Cotter’s assistance, the bleeding stopped in three minutes, and the boy of about 110 pounds survived.

“Dr. Heath personally stopped the bleeding,” Dr. Serhii said. “That was a miracle that he’d been there just in that moment, when he was needed mostly.

“When we stopped the bleeding, (the boy) started to vomit blood. We collected half a liter of blood he swallowed before.”

The past 11 months have obviously been anything but normal for Dr. Serhii, whose first taste of war came when he was called up as a military doctor in 2015. When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Dr. Serhii moved his family from Kyiv to Germany, and they have since come back.

He has food, a roof over his head and warmth, he said. Everything in Kyiv is “not so bad,” he joked facetiously. But he’s also lost much, including friends.

“I lost,” he said poignantly. He then sighed. “My friend, he was a colonel in the Ukrainian Army… Yeah, I lost a lot of people.”

Dec. 21, 2022 marked a historical day in United States’ history. It was the first time, since British Prime Minister Winston Churchill did it in 1941, that a foreign national leader came to Washington to address Congress. In his speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that, despite continued support from the U.S., there still needs to be more.

“Your support is crucial, not just to stand in such a fight, but to get to the turning point to win on the battlefield,” he told Congress. “We have artillery, yes. We have it. Is it enough? Quite honestly, not really.”

On a much scaled down version, Dr. Serhii’s visit to Rifle is chock full of the same intentions.

“I have just one week to meet as many people as possible,” he reiterated. “Because I’ll be back Tuesday to Ukraine, and Wednesday we’ll go to Mykolaiv. It’s a city on the shore of the Black Sea, and they bomb it every day. We promise the people we will be there and serve them for three days.”

“I can’t miss this trip.”

There are a number of ways people can donate toward humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. Visit these organizations online for more information:

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