News Release

BYU Nursing Students Aid Ukrainian Refugees during Trip to Poland

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By Rachel Sterzer Gibson, Church News

Brigham Young University (BYU) nursing student Nadia DeVol has family in Ukraine and has been praying for an opportunity to help the people there in some way.

Her chance came recently as she joined a group of students and professors from BYU, an university sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on a study abroad trip to Poland to serve in Ukrainian refugee centers. “I’m endlessly grateful to have been offered the resources and access to be part of this project because of BYU,” DeVol said in a BYU news release on June 13.

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A group of BYU students and professors traveled to Poland in May 2023 to serve in a center for Ukrainian refugees. Photo by BYU photo, courtesy of Church News.2023 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

DeVol, who is half Ukrainian and speaks fluent Russian, served as a translator for the group as they provided medical aid, taught classes on health and wellness, and donated thousands of dollars worth of medical supplies.

The seeds for this year’s trip were planted a year ago when Julie Valentine, associate dean of the College of Nursing, and Leslie Miles, a professor in the College of Nursing, took a different group of nursing students to aid Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw, Poland.

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A BYU student teaches a class at Jednosc, an educational and cultural center for Ukrainian refugees, during a study abroad trip in May 2023. Photo by BYU photo, courtesy of Church News.2023 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

In a social media post about the study abroad trip last year, Valentine wrote of how BYU students exemplified the College of Nursing’s motto to “learn the Healer’s art.”

“Words can’t capture this despair, horror, resiliency, compassion, & hope,” she wrote on Twitter after their group spent 20 hours that day providing care to refugees.

Shortly afterward, Miles and Valentine said in a BYU news release they were committed to further helping the Ukrainian refugees. “This is not ending, and the humanitarian needs are immense,” Valentine said in 2022.

With the help of DeVol and a few other BYU students — Jed Fuller, Niles Herrod, and Saydie Clark — they created a non-profit organization called Unity for Ukraine to support the efforts of Jednosc, a cultural and educational center created by Ukrainian teachers to help refugees.

“We created Unity because we want these Ukrainian teachers and their school to thrive,” DeVol explained. “They are helping women and children who have had their lives turned upside down, and we want to see them be successful.”

This year’s study abroad group, along with Valentine and Miles, spent much of their time offering aid and teaching classes at Jednosc. They taught classes on managing stress and anxiety and dealing with trauma and offered basic medical aid by checking vitals, offering one-on-one comfort, and delivering medical supplies.

In a social media post on May 18, Valentine shared a photo of a BYU student speaking one-on-one with a refugee. “Ministering to the ‘one.’ … So many needs yet lifting the heart of one matters,” she wrote.

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Ministering to the "one." BYU College of Nursing student Julie Valentine aids at Ukrainian refugee shelter.2023 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Recent BYU graduate Brenna Wilkinson, who served as a translator while at the center, said in the BYU news release, “I’ve gained a deeper respect and perspective on human life.”

Wilkinson recalled a conversation she had with one mother who spoke of the trauma her son was dealing with after being forced to flee their country.

“I asked her for clarification to make sure that I had heard her correctly when she said her little boy had seen shootings and bombings. She looked at me directly and said ‘Of course.’”

Wilkinson said her experiences at BYU, including the recent study abroad, have helped her look for what she can do for others, rather than just for herself.

The trip to Poland has motivated DeVol to extend Christlike love and healing in her future nursing career, she said. “Tragedy abounds but the work we did was less about tragedy and more about the strength of the human spirit and about the obligation we have to help because we’re human and it’s good.”

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