Following the collapse of the old Soviet Union, Project C.U.R.E. witnessed some of its most dramatic humanitarian work in the Republic of Ukraine. One day I heard President Ronald Reagan say something that startled me and helped me through those hectic days, "We can't help everyone, but everyone can help someone."
On one of my trips I had been invited to perform "needs assessment studies" on hospitals and clinics in the Ternopil and Liviv areas of Ukraine. The director of the large hospital was my host. He told me how it was the driving passion of every Ukrainian to escape Ukraine and move to America. But even though he had been offered a very lucrative position in USA, he returned quickly to Ukraine and rededicated his life to rebuilding the health care system in his own country. He said, "I can't help everybody, but I can make a difference."
In the city of Liviv, Lloyd and "Biggy" wanted me to take a detour from the assessments and see the soup kitchen they had established for street kids. The boys and girls were never placed in an orphanage, but left on the streets to fend for themselves. "We can't feed everybody, but this is a start." I left with the echoes in my ears of Ukrainian orphans singing around cauldrons of steaming stew.
My new Ukrainian friend, Meeche, had stopped in a hallway where he had grabbed a large plastic-handled knife and began sharpening it on a stone. He had requested that I accompany him to see if Project C.U.R.E. could supply medical goods to the wretched clinic at the large prison in Liviv. "Are you really crazy enough to think you can take that knife into the prison with us?" I asked. Meeche grinned and we headed for a state-run store on a narrow back street where people were pushing and shoving to get to the counter. We bought enough loaves of bread to fill our crumpled boxes, and a small case of packets that contained about two cups of sugar each.
Down the block we parked our old car in front of some frightening gates of solid steel. Only when we were on the inside did I realize the expanse of the prison built of stone and covered with razor wire. With guards surrounding us, Meeche drew out his large knife and cut each loaf of bread in quarters. Loaded down with the bread, packets of sugar, little bags of candy and a box of Ukrainian Bibles, we followed the armed guards through the entry process, into the main building and up to the second floor. Inside, the stench threatened to gag me. I was introduced to the nurse who was in charge of the clinic and all medical matters at the prison. She was a hardened ex-military vet in her 50s, whose experiment with blonde hair had backfired. She showed me her pitiful clinic and literally begged me for anything medical.
Each ward in the prison hospital was secured by solid steel doors, and additional doors of bars and locks. There was only one small, barred window per ward, high up on one wall and sealed tightly. The farther down the corridor, the more severe the cases in the large open wards. At the very end were the advanced cancer wards. These were all very sick patients who were prisoners, but confined to the prison hospital wards. Their severe illnesses had become their own death sentences.
The old Soviet system of medical care and prison treatment was diabolical and inhumane. But into that nightmarish world, Meeche and his friends would go and take bread, packets of sugar, little bags of candy and a word of hope contained in a small Bible written in their own language.
I shall never have erased from my mind those scenes of suffering, nor will I forget Meeche and his friends saying, "No one else cares for these lost souls. But we can help begin making our beloved Ukraine a better place by taking love to them." I somehow knew that one day Ukraine would be better again!
You were right, President Reagan, "We can't help everyone, but everyone can help someone."