Avon man’s Ukraine aid trip creates another mission

This injured Ukrainian daughter, mother and son are three of countless civilians injured in the wake of Russia's invasion.
Tyler Schmidt

Tyler Schmidt went to Ukraine in April hoping to help in that war-torn country. He returned with an even deeper devotion to that mission.

Schmidt, of Avon, is a nurse practitioner and a veteran of the U.S. Army’s Green Berets. He and fellow veteran Greg Miller, a physician’s assistant, self-funded a spring mission with a desire to help in any way they could.

Schmidt is a combat veteran, so he’s seen a lot. But even staying west of the heaviest fighting, he wasn’t prepared for what he saw in Ukraine.

“One of the things that really touched me was the kids,” Schmidt said. “It was … heartbreaking.”

Schmidt noted it’s hard to see anyone with a blown-off limb. But kids? “It’s a crusher,” he said. “When you see a 6-year-old, he should be playing in a playground, not looking forward to getting a prosthetic leg.”

There was a lot of heartbreak in the trip, especially as Schmidt got closer to combat areas, as far as the Ukraine capital of Kyiv.

But, he added, he saw a lot that was remarkable, particularly in the spirit of Ukrainians.

“They’re so strong, and they don’t give up,” Schmidt said. “They will fight to the last breath.”

Schmidt asked any number of people why they didn’t just pack up and evacuate. The answer was always the same: “This is our home. This is our family. We’re staying.”

And not many men stay out of the action.

Everybody to the front

In addition to helping in medical clinics, Schmidt and Miller also helped train Ukrainian military units in U.S. special forces tactics.

“Every soldier we trained went to the front,” Schmidt said. Given the information manipulation of both the Ukrainian and Russian governments, there is no way to know for certain how many casualties each side is taking. But Schmidt said he’s certain that losses are high on both sides.

Given Schmidt’s previous combat experience, it’s natural to ask how he’s holding up these days.

Schmidt acknowledges he has post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in Iraq. But rather than triggering, Schmidt’s trip to Ukraine was a healing experience.

Lviv, Ukraine, is hundreds of miles from the heaviest fighting, but the city’s train station was still hit in a rocket attack. Tyler Schmidt

“You’d think it would be traumatic, but I’d just try to do something good every day,” he said.

That’s something Schmidt is still trying to do, in part due to a dream he had just before coming home. That dream was about amputees, and it led to the creation of a Limbs for Liberty, a nonprofit dedicated to helping provide prosthetics for at least some of the injured.

The fledgling group has already had some success, helping bring five patients to a hospital in Minneapolis.

The efforts to start Limbs for Liberty led to an unexpected connection. Through a Russian woman who first wanted to bring homeless cats to the U.S. — an effort that didn’t pan out — Schmidt was connected with local resident Kelly Rohrig. It turns out Rohrig went to high school with Schmidt’s brother.

An expensive goal

Limbs for Liberty’s goal is an expensive one. Schmidt said a basic prosthetic can cost $15,000 or more. A complex device can easily cost $100,000, and growing children can require several as they grow to adulthood.

Putting together a nonprofit to serve needs in the U.S. requires jumping through any number of bureaucratic hoops. It’s even more difficult to try to help people in another country. The fact that a lot of nonprofit money intended to help Ukraine doesn’t get to those in need is a further complication.

“It’s not perfect,” Schmidt said. But, he added, wounded civilians, particularly kids, don’t deserve any of the damage that’s been done to them.

Ukraine is a beautiful country, he said, and the cities are similar to those you’ll find elsewhere in Europe.

“Think about (another country) bombing Toronto, and that’s what it’s like,” he said.

And the people are remarkable. Schmidt said. Many of the people he met were slow to open up. Once they do, “If they have a bowl of borscht, and that’s all they have, they’ll split it with you.”

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