A North Bay nurse got a first-hand look at the impact of the war in Ukraine when she travelled to the Ukraine-Poland border to care for displaced families trying to escape the conflict.

Jenny Ryan flew overseas in mid May, knowing she wouldn’t just be providing physical care, but also emotional support.

“The Ukrainian people need our help,” Ryan said.

“I spoke to many people who lost friends and family in the war. It’s a real thing for them. It’s not fake news.”

Ryan, a registered hospital nurse with the North Bay Regional Health Centre, volunteered with the Canadian Medical Assistance Teams (CMAT), a disaster relief organization made up of volunteer health professionals.

She met with fellow nurses, doctors and a translator to provide basic medical care to Ukrainians fleeing war.

Ryan was stationed in Poland and would cross into western Ukraine to work at a stationary clinic each day.

“One mom and her children were stuck at the border, because sometimes it would take two to three days to cross the border because the lineups were quite large,” she said.

“She was nine weeks pregnant and she drove 1,000 kilometres and she was quite nauseous from being pregnant. So we provided treatment for her.”

Ryan met many families looking to take refuge in other areas of the country or neighbouring countries.

“Many of them had their husbands still fighting in the war. They didn’t really want to leave Ukraine,” she said.

“Some of them didn’t have the resources to leave Ukraine.”

This is the first conflict the CMAT has been deployed to since starting up as a non-profit organization back in 2005. Ordinarily, the medical teams respond to natural disasters.

“Early on in our deployment in March we were seeing 40-50 patients a day in our mobile and stationary clinics,” said CMAT executive director Valerie Rzepka, in a Zoom interview from Lviv.

"That has decreased to about 8-10 patients a day."

CMAT estimates it has supported a few thousand Ukrainians since the war began. The operation ends June 30, when the Canadian medical professionals will start a transition period.

“We will be transitioning to a more supportive role providing training and education to local providers,” said Rzepka.

Ryan said if the Russian aggression escalates, she’d be willing to go back to help. The European crisis really puts things into perspective on how lucky we are to live in Canada, she added.

“We have a good health care system. We live in a peaceful country and we have freedom here,” she said.