For over a month now, Peter Nordquist’s life has been on the road.
But not just any road.
“I was watching all the reports about innocent people in Ukraine being blown to pieces,” Nordquist told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. “After six weeks of this, I was heartbroken.”
Nordquist, 66, from Edina, travels hundreds of kilometers between Poland and Ukraine three times a week.
He spends his days collecting donated medical supplies in Warsaw and then delivering them to cities like Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk.
Nordquist says the need is desperate.
“Everyone from these war zones is flocking to central Ukraine in droves,” he explains. “The hospital we work with, for example, has taken in 30% more patients than it has supplies.”
Retired from a food packaging business, Nordquist says he had the time and the opportunity to help.
“I sent maybe 100 emails to friends, family and neighbors in Minneapolis and Bemidji, and a handful of people have contacts in hospitals,” he recalls.
Among those who responded was John Lueth, a dentist from Bemidji who heard about the Nordquist mission from a friend.
He and his colleagues at the dental practice donated $1,500 to help buy medical supplies in Europe – after discovering that shipping them overseas themselves would have been prohibitively expensive.
“I think that’s great, I applaud him for that, for his willingness to volunteer,” Lueth said. “It’s a bit of a melting pot, not just in Ukraine, but there seem to be tensions in other European countries as well. It’s time to step in and do what we can.
Nordquist says that on April 4 he bought a plane ticket and arrived in Warsaw.
He says he was inspired by the story of Mark Lundquist – a US Air Force veteran from Moorhead – who launched a humanitarian aid effort at the end of March.
“If you can deliver medical supplies and so on if you’re willing to go to central Ukraine, that would be a really good way to help out,” Nordquist says. “And so that’s what I’m doing here.”
The humanitarian aid effort comes as a United Nations report says 5.7 million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24.
That’s about the same number of people living in Minnesota.
Nordquist says after collecting hospital supplies, he uses a van to make the deliveries.
The journeys are not short. The journey from Warsaw to Lviv, for example, is 247 miles.
He said he often delivers medical supplies where Lundquist has set up a collection point.
Nordquist estimates he carried thousands of items, packing some in suitcases and duffel bags, including gauze, IV tubing and surgical tools.
Carrying these must-have items isn’t easy, he says.
But it seems that the volunteers are mobilizing.
“It’s very difficult to get these supplies from southeastern Poland to where they’re needed in Ukraine because the Russians are bombing the railroads,” Nordquist said. “There are hundreds, maybe a few thousand people who said they were going to come and drive cars, load up as much as they can and put stuff in them.”
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Along the way, he gets a sense of what it’s like to spend time in a country at war, and his admiration for the Ukrainian people grows every day.
“With the Ukrainian loudspeakers, the sirens are sounding again. So we know there’s a missile somewhere nearby. And it’s just a weird feeling,” Nordquist said calmly. “They know that if a missile hits, it’s over. But they are going about their business, and their resolve is strong, and they want to stay here.
He says he has established a supply network that includes hospitals and refugee centers during his travels.
Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine is a frequent stopover.
“I try to bring items for the Catholic parish refugee center and then I spend a day or two working with the hospital, bringing them the goods they need,” Nordquist notes.
Lueth, who says he has studied World War II extensively, thinks there are startling similarities to current events.
He says he’s proud of the work his compatriot from Minnesota is doing in Ukraine.
“It echoes that kind of disappointment and aggression,” Lueth said. “A lot of innocent people, I feel bad for…and maybe we can help a little somehow.”
Nordquist said he plans to continue working in Poland and Ukraine until May 21. He noted that he had already extended his stay twice.
Right now, however, he says he’s torn.
He got to know people, he heard their stories, but he also recently learned that he was a grandfather.
So tough choices ahead.
“I’m very grateful to the people who help us help Ukrainians, even though I haven’t met them,” Nordquist said. “We’re meeting more people, we’re hearing stories, and the stories are like something out of a movie, you wouldn’t believe it. So you want to help. If you know people back home have your back, it’s hard to leave when you know you can be of help.