LUBBOCK, Texas — Retired Lubbock banker and Big XII referee Mike Liner spent March and April using his experience as a pharmacist to serve the people of Ukraine with Samaritan’s Purse.
A Christian-based organization, Samaritan’s Purse deploys field hospitals to some of the neediest areas in the world. Liner has volunteered with the organization for seven years, witnessing earthquakes in Ecuador, hurricanes in Mozambique, and wounded ISIS soldiers in Iraq — but he says his experience in Ukraine was unlike any other.
“It’s always a bad situation we walk into,” Liner said. “What was different about Ukraine was that the people are just mentally shot over there. I mean, you can just imagine if you’re living in Lubbock, Texas, and the Russians can lob a missile in here anywhere they want to anytime they want to. After a few weeks of that, what that does to you mentally, even though maybe you’re not in the fight.”
Liner arrived with a team of doctors and nurses in the first week of Russia’s invasion. They passed desperate crowds of cars and families that spanned for miles heading to the Polish border. They drove into an uncertain battle on one of the only buses heading east, armed with only flak jackets and faith.
“When we came across, we saw these people fleeing the country,” Liner said. “There was still a mass exodus out of the country. The line of automobiles waiting at the border crossing there was about 15 miles long. The people that we treated, they were out of medicine. They just grabbed what few things they could because when the bombs started coming they didn’t have time to pack.”
Most of the Samaritan team’s hundreds of patients were not casualties of war, but casual civilians lacking the basic necessities upended by a dismantling healthcare system. They spent the first weeks of Liner’s two-month mission in Lviv, spending almost all of their time in a field hospital built in an underground parking garage, constantly waking to the sounds of air raids.
“It was every night. We would get up two to three times a night to go to an air raid shelter. That wears on you,” he said. “And it was dark all the time. That was the hardest part on us. We never saw the light of day unless you went outside… They hit the bus station, train station, the airport in Lviv while I was there.”
But the true medical urgency was still deeper into hostile territory. Liner’s team traveled to the central city of Kropyvnytskyi, a relatively small city with no military targets equidistant from the besieged cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Mariupol. But even further into the Ukrainians’ stolen home, Liner did not feel far from his home.
“Kropyvnytskyi reminded me of Lubbock, Texas,” he said. “It was a town of 250 to 300 thousand people and it had a university there. It was a large city in the middle of a very large farming area. Just think about all the people in Lubbock if all of a sudden we were all out of jobs and our homes were destroyed, and our utilities were turned off… It’s just a horrible situation.”
Liner remarked on the spirit of resiliency and strength he observed while treating the Ukrainian people – “hard-headed,” he said we would call them in West Texas vernacular. Listening to their stories was one of the most beneficial things for him, and for them – often a more potent prescription than the pharmaceuticals he was there to administer.
“One of the best medicines you can give to them is to just listen to them,” he said. “Everyone has a story.”
Ukraine’s story is a long history of forced government and uncertain futures. They are relying on the rest of the world to co-write the next chapter in their first draft of democracy.
“Living in Lubbock, Texas, we just take it for granted,” he said. “They do not under any circumstances want to go back under Communism. They don’t want to give them an inch. They’re not interested in negotiation. They want to fight the Russians as long as the world will support them. We pray that they world will continue to help them.”
Liner asks anyone who can to donate to Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical service organization that travels to disaster zones “helping in Jesus’ name.”