Mar 4, 2022

The War in Ukraine - A Personal Statement from Dr. J. Rutka

Rutka, Kharkiv, Ukraine

Some of you may know of my Ukrainian heritage, and my involvement these past several years in global outreach missions to Ukraine.  During these missions, I have met and become friends with numerous Ukrainian surgeons, anesthesiologists, pediatricians, neurologists, otolaryngologists, and hospital administrators.  Working with Myroslava Romach, Departments of Psychiatry/Surgery UofT, we have established working relationships and programs with medical and surgical specialists in Lviv, Lutsk, Uzhhorod, Kyiv, and Odessa.  It has been heartwarming to see the results of our work in Ukraine, where our partners wish nothing more than to do better for their families and the patients they serve.  Other colleagues in our Department have also been leading surgical programs in Ukraine including Allan Okrainec, who was performing surgical remote tele-simulation procedures with general surgeons in Donetsk; and Oleh Antonyshyn and Todd Mainprize, who were assisting Ukrainian military surgeons in treating combat victims from the Eastern occupied territories of Ukraine. We are forever grateful to Jim and Louise Temerty for their generous and profound support of these and numerous Ukrainian efforts over many years.  Our efforts in Ukraine have resulted in palpable and tangible impact within this low to middle income country. 
On one occasion in 2015, my wife Mari and I had the defining experience of traveling to a small village in southwestern Ukraine, to visit family members I had never seen or met before.   We were greeted with the utmost generosity, kindness, and hospitality, as if we had known each other all our lives.  This has been our experience over and over again with so many people that we have had the good fortune to meet in Ukraine.
On Thursday, February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine.  There were ample warnings that Russian President Vladimir Putin was assembling a large-scale military attack on Ukraine to reoccupy lands that were given back to the Ukrainians when the Soviet Republic disbanded on December 26, 1991.  What has transpired in the mere course of one week has been a large scale, destructive, and unprovoked assault on the people of Ukraine.  I stand aghast as I witness in real time the senseless killings perpetrated by Putin’s tyrannical regime.  The Department of Surgery supports the statements made by UofT President Meric Gertler and Acting Dean Patricia Houston regarding the condemnation of this invasion and the blatant disregard for human life and values.  At the same time, I am heartened by the groundswell of support that has come from all corners of the globe towards Ukrainians as they heroically engage in the defence of their country.

I am saddened by the daily reports I am receiving now from my Ukrainian colleagues regarding the tremendous hardships they are facing.  Children with cancer are unable to receive the critical chemotherapy they need as there are no drugs.  Scheduled surgeries cannot be undertaken. There is limited capacity to perform urgent surgeries.  Hospital basements are being dually used as patient wards and bomb shelters.  The supply chain is weak.  These unspeakable realities are the results of a maniacal despot who considers Russian imperialism as a way to secure his legacy.  And while this view may shape the current actions of Russia’s leaders, we should not assume that it is reflected in the thinking of all Russian people.  We must recognize the challenges of standing up to protest injustice in a totalitarian state that tightly controls access to information and severely punishes dissent. 

I am writing at this time as it is my opinion that we are witnessing a threshold event that has the potential to change the course of history, and one that may cause great harm and destruction to our planet. I know I am not alone advocating for and working towards a peaceful resolution to the war in Ukraine.

For those wishing to provide support at this time, I recommend the Ukrainian Humanitarian Crisis Appeal through the Canadian Red Cross: