Notes from the field

From CEO to NGO: Why I Joined GRM’s Ukrainian Mission

by Natalia Zachynsky


February 24th. Just another day for most people in the world. But for me and the other 42 million Ukrainians, it divided us into ‘before’ and ‘after’. 

We woke to explosions and petrifying news, spreading around the country at the speed of light: 

“Russia attacked Ukraine at 4.30am.” 

BEFORE the war, I was a successful young owner of an educational business, a teacher-trainer, an international examiner, and an author. I presented at international conferences, worked hard to achieve success; everything was carefully planned and under control. 

AFTER February 24th…  our lives were put on hold, like a terrible dream with no way to wake up.  I no longer belonged to myself.  I lived at the whim of a ruthless dictator who decides if I live or die.  He chooses whether or not innocent children will be bombed, another building destroyed, or whether to grant a temporary respite in the form of a few hours of peace.  

I felt panic, despair, helplessness, and a feeling of indescribable emptiness as I asked myself repeatedly: “Why?” 

However, by nature I am a doer, not an observer. I wanted to be useful and not sit at home in Khmelnytksy, a city in the west of Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians were less fortunate than me, having lost their homes, jobs, or family and many had been forced to flee.

I started offering shelter to those who needed it, I worked at the train station as people evacuated from targeted and occupied regions of the country, and I gave food and water for those in need. I searched for medicine for the military and volunteered as a translator for those delivering essentials from abroad.

But it felt like I could do more. That opportunity came at the beginning of March when a friend asked me to translate for an American medic.

And that is how I first met Luke. He needed a translator to help him with various meetings, including at the Department of Health in Khmelnytsky. I didn’t know anything about Global Response Management or their work at the time, but I saw a person who wanted to help with all his heart.

It was chaos, not just in my city but in the country in general. Few people had time for us, as meeting after meeting was postponed or canceled.

My professional career had given me a wide circle of useful contacts who had previously trusted me to work with society’s most valuable assets – children. I realized I could do more than just translate. I used my network to find friends and colleagues in the medical field and many patriotic people who were more than happy to help us.

We began to organize medical training on Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC or is the accepted battlefield prehospital standard of care), POCUS (Point-Of-Care UltraSound refers to portable ultrasound systems that allow the assessment of patients without requiring them to be physically present in a radiology department.), and Advanced Trauma Life Support, as well as piloting a project with the Ministry of Health and WHO to send GRM surgical teams to the front line to support Ukrainian surgeons.

My role as translator quickly morphed into a much bigger role organizing training throughout Ukraine and liaising with the Ministry of Health as well as other medical institutions of the country. I was responsible for logistics, training, supplies, translators, lodgings, and essentials for the productive work of the entire team.

It wasn’t an easy transition, my ‘before’ to ‘after’ career.  Not being a medical doctor, I was in a new world where my previous professional achievements and life before the war were a distant memory.

I suddenly had others around me, who could support me and advise me when I was unsure how to act. Usually, I am the leader, but I learnt to step back and work a part of a large team. The only thing that mattered was to get help to the people who needed it the most. I couldn’t let anyone down.

I am infinitely grateful to GRM for allowing me to find another side of me, to understand the true value of a team, the support and care it brings as I became part of a whole without losing myself. I learned to make suggestions and to, occasionally, have them rejected, putting aside my ego for the good of the project.

I learned how to make the impossible possible. Always with urgency. They say ‘teamwork makes the dream work’. It’s true!  GRM gave me new colleagues and friends but most importantly, it showed me the beauty of the human soul and the desire to help regardless of country, religious beliefs, profession, and values. We are united by the desire to help and fight together.

As to my recurring question – Why is there a war in Ukraine? – I still don’t have the answer. But now I know why I should live: I have to help those who need it and GRM showed me how.



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We are in Gaza and Ukraine.

Yesterday, GRM founder Pete Reed and was killed in Bakhmut, Ukraine.

Yesterday, GRM founder Pete Reed was killed in Bakhmut, Ukraine. Pete was the bedrock of GRM, serving as Board President for 4 years. In January, Pete stepped away from GRM to work with Global Outreach Doctors on their Ukraine mission and was killed while rendering aid.

This is a stark reminder of the perils rescue and aid workers face in conflict zones as they serve citizens caught in the crossfire. Pete was just 33 years old, but lived a life in service of others, first as a decorated US Marine and then in humanitarian aid. GRM will strive to honor his legacy and the selfless service he practiced.

We fully support Pete’s family, friends, and colleagues during this devastating time.