Guelph ER nurse returns from medical aid trip to Ukraine

Guelph emergency room nurse Marcella Veenman-Mulder is now at home after spending a month in Lviv, Ukraine.

“I worked 24 days straight, at least 12 hours a day,” she said.

She traveled there with Samaritans Purse (SP) to provide medical aid.

“The biggest thing I’ve had to understand is knowing that I have to rest, but at the same time, it’s wrong to be here when there is so much need,” he said. she told CTV Kitchener.

Veenman-Mulder was part of the first wave of SP relief personnel sent to Ukraine.

“It’s really difficult because the lay of the land is not really understood yet,” Veenman-Mulder said.

She provided medical care along with other doctors and nurses around the world. But his team also included construction workers, electricians, cooks and distribution specialists – among others – who distributed a large number of medicines and other basic necessities to the Ukrainian people.

Veenman-Mulder has worked with local orphanages and war-injured trauma patients. She said many of her patients also suffer from chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes or multiple sclerosis.

“Things like that get magnified when people can’t access regular medication,” she explained.

The Samaritans Purse base camp in Lviv consisted of several tents in a basement at an undisclosed location. (CTV News)

“It is estimated that 50% of pharmacies in Ukraine are closed at the moment and 50% of healthcare workers have been displaced,” she continued.


His team with Samaritans Purse was stationed in a makeshift hospital in a basement in Lviv. She is not allowed to share the specific location as it may jeopardize current efforts.

She is also not allowed to share certain photos because they could be geotagged.

“Portable showers are out of place, portable bathrooms are out of place,” she explained.

His home for the month-long stay consisted of several army-sized tents. Some were used for sleeping, others for emergency rooms and another for an operating room.

“We started by sleeping 20 women in a tent, then we stacked our beds, so you sleep on bunk beds,” she described.

(CTV News)

“I think the misnomer…is you’re just going to do medicine,” Veenman-Mulder said, explaining that she often helps with other aspects of the deployment.

When the SP team arrived, they helped the construction crews pitch the tents and bathrooms for the medical work to take place.

“We also ship medical supplies, so I have to work with distributions,” she said.

The trauma nurse described a day, long before her rounds, that was emotionally difficult for her due to the extreme nature of caring for a patient.

She said the next day she took a break from her medical duties and instead helped the construction crew lift heavy objects in order to give her a break.

She described sleeping better that night and feeling able to restart before what, no doubt, would be another busy 12-hour day in the medical tent.


Veenman-Mulder remembers a moment of realization that still comes back to her mind.

It was the first night she had arrived in the country, at Lviv station.

“The whole floor is made up of women and children,” she explained, adding that she had noticed that all the men were absent.

“You get about four square meters, and that’s up to you…but it’s hot, there were a number of agencies providing food and necessities.”

A mother hugs her son who fled the besieged city of Mariupol and arrived at the train station in Lviv, western Ukraine, Sunday, March 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Then she went down the stairs, where the elderly and disabled were staying.

Finally, she crossed the last room of her visit.

“It was muffled voices and the smell of coffee, but it was all men,” she recalls.

“So I said to my interpreter, ‘what’s going on?’ [And they] said, “Marcella, they’re all going in, they’re all going in,” Veenman-Mulder explained before taking a deep breath.

“So that was tough.”

It was suddenly extremely clear to her – all the women and children upstairs “had left someone.”

Reminiscing about her home in Guelph, Veenman-Mulder shook her head as she struggled to match her emotions with appropriate words.


The mother of four and new grandmother didn’t start becoming a nurse until she was in her 30s.

It was a quick decision after spending time in the hospital for major back surgery.

“God and I had a little chat this is how bad my back was…because I couldn’t walk so I said ‘if you let me walk again I promise not to lose another day,'” she said.

She now has about 15 years of experience and is currently an emergency room nurse at Guelph General Hospital when not working with NGOs.

While in nursing school, she also took courses in political science and current affairs – all subjects that have come to play a major role in her current work.

“I wanted to understand what influenced health,” she said.

A photo of one of Marcella Veenman-Mulder’s other deployments. (Submitted)

During her nursing studies, she traveled to Honduras where she helped an NGO alongside her father, who also practices medicine in Guelph.

“I thought it would be a done deal,” she said, imagining it would be too much to juggle while raising four kids.

Now her children are all older and out of the house.


While working in Honduras, she often spent time in neighborhoods with a strong gang presence.

Veenman-Mulder has also traveled to the Amazon in Colombia. She described hour-long boat rides to patients’ homes and the need to triple-check supplies before setting off for the day.

Inventory planning and tracking is key, because “you only have X, Y, and Z,” she said.

Marcella Veenman-Mulder has also been deployed as a nurse in Honduras and Colombia. (Submitted)

She has worked with the Red Cross and Global Fire.

In Canada, she recently helped communities in northern Ontario and Alberta receive appropriate care for COVID-19.

“I think the trauma, the trauma of war, would set this deployment apart from all the others,” she said, comparing Ukraine to past trips.

It wasn’t his first potentially dangerous deployment, but it was a daunting experience nonetheless.

“We have a bit of a policy in our house that if a person says no, with a great reason, then I’m not going.”


Veenman-Mulder works on hold and often receives little notice when organizations need it.

“It’s call and go,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.

She sometimes misses family events, like weddings, birthdays and showers, but said her family understands.

“It’s not just me going there, I think my family does the heavy lifting,” she said, explaining that they were keeping life on track at home and, of course, , worried about her.

“Whenever there was a bombing nearby, and nearby, I mean within 100 miles, I would just text them and say ‘Safe. I’m fine.'”

Marcella Veenman-Mulder and her family. (Submitted)


“For me, it’s really interesting to do a comparison of geography and population base between Ontario and Ukraine,” Veenman-Mulder said.

In her mind, she compares the approximately 13 million people who have been displaced to the population of southern Ontario. It’s a similar number.

For the nurse, this really puts the magnitude of the situation into perspective.

“I consider it to be very similar geographically, very similar temperature, very similar climate and very similar topography, and then the affected population base is the same as where I’ve lived all my life,” he said. she said, referring to Guelph and the south. Ontario.

“I can’t help but draw the similarities of what would happen if Hamilton was actually Kharkiv or Mariupol was Toronto.”

“It’s not about politics,” Veenman-Mulder added. “It’s just the affected population.”

“The affected population is horrifying.”

Veenman-Mulder said she gave her availability to Samaritans Purse and was ready to go if, or when, another call from Ukraine came.