Evacuating disabled refugees is Tulsan’s new mission in Ukraine: ‘The best protection is to get them out

Carrie Moss has dedicated her life to helping people with disabilities. It’s the reason she went to Ukraine in the first place. It’s what’s kept her there for the last eight years. But the Tulsa native’s skills as a physical therapist are not what her patients need most from her right now.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began three weeks ago, Moss and her colleagues at a rehabilitation center in Lutsk have shifted gears and are embracing a new mission. They are serving war refugees, including many with disabilities whom they are helping to flee the country. “We want to protect them, and the best protection is to get them out. That’s what we’re actively involved in,” said Moss, who spoke with the Tulsa World this week via Zoom.

With the fighting in eastern Ukraine raging, refugees are flooding into the western cities like Lutsk, she said. Her workplace, Agape Rehabilitation Center, has converted itself into a checkpoint to serve them, providing food, shelter, hygiene and supplies. Many stay for a night or two and then move on, Moss said.

But those with disabilities — including the organization’s own clients and other Ukrainians who are now being directed to Agape — need extra help and support. So far, the facility has transported several buses full of disabled people and their caregivers to the border with Poland.

“Many of our people have pretty significant disabilities,” Moss said. “A lot with spinal cord injuries, many in wheelchairs.” “We get them to the border. Then the other organizations that are coming to help from Europe — they meet us there with vans.” This new role of serving refugees wasn’t something Agape was prepared for, she added.

But like many other organizations in Ukraine, “we learned fast,” Moss said. They had no choice. “The refugees are just overflowing,” she said. “People just keep coming, keep coming, keep coming.” ‘Very traumatized’

A graduate of Hale High School, Moss first started visiting Ukraine several years ago through an organization that provides wheelchairs to those in need. Those were just short-term trips, though. She eventually made it a full-time commitment with Agape, supported by Texas-based Christian Health Service Corps, a medical missions nonprofit.

The organization is currently raising funds specifically for Moss and Agape’s new mission of helping refugees. So far, more than $10,000 has been delivered directly to the effort. “So many people have reached out to say they’re praying, to ask how they can help and have given financially,” Moss said. “And globally the outpouring of generosity and support for Ukraine has really been quite amazing to witness.” That includes a whole lot of welcoming arms, she said. Over 3 million refugees so far have fled to neighboring countries.

An estimated two-thirds of them have gone to Poland. That puts Lutsk, just 70 miles from the Polish border, right in the heart of the refugee migration, Moss said. “We have 40 to 60 refugees that stay the night (at Agape),” she said. “We have mattresses literally everywhere. Our whole rehab gym is full of them. “Most people are just with us for a day or two, with the goal of getting to the border.”

Most are women and children, she said. “The first wave were the people who were prepared and had means — maybe a car, money, relatives,” Moss said. “Now it’s the second wave of people. They’ve been exposed to war. They are very traumatized and don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t have a plan or maybe they don’t have the means, and so it’s getting a little tougher.”

Moss has recently been in the southwestern city of Ozhhorod. She went there with her roommate and helped her roommate’s mother and a family from Kyiv get across the border to safety. But Moss was heading back to Lutsk this week. “All of our contacts are saying it’s calm there,” she said.

Lutsk did experience a few recent missile strikes that damaged its airport. “And on the first day of the invasion, we had a few explosions,” Moss said. “I heard them from my bed. That was a little scary moment.” However, with the Russian offensives mostly targeting the east, cities on the western side have been largely spared so far.

‘Courageous and unified’ Moss has talked to her mother in Tulsa pretty much every day since the invasion began, she said. She’s worried for her daughter, but she is relying on her faith. “God is giving her peace,” Moss said. Moss, too, is calling on divine support.

Whenever she’s felt fear begin to rise within her, “thankfully, God has provided peace and wisdom in the moment what to do.” Focusing on the task at hand is the best approach, she said. “From the beginning, we’ve had work to do,” Moss said. “You want to do what you can do, and you don’t really have time to ponder what could happen.” If she ever lacks for inspiration, she doesn’t have to look far to find it. The people of Ukraine are setting a powerful example, she said.

“It’s been really amazing to watch how courageous and unified they are in this fight, whether they’re wearing army fatigues or not,” Moss said. “Pretty much every Ukrainian is finding a way to fight — with whatever means they can, whether that’s supporting the fighting or actually going into it.” In Lutsk, with no end in sight, Moss and her colleagues will continue to focus on refugees. For everyone looking on from afar, “I would just ask everyone to pray,” she said. “Pray for God to end this war, to pour out his grace on us.”

As seen on: https://tulsaworld.com/news/local/evacuating-disabled-refugees-is-tulsans-new-mission-in-ukraine-the-best-protection-is-to-get/article_9931f0ce-a532-11ec-a1c8-5381782e1623.html