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'Living it every day' | Middletown man travels to Ukraine to help train nurses during ongoing war

Greg Klaus has traveled to Ukraine multiple times to help train nurses that provide care to those injured in the war.


A Connecticut nurse is traveling for a third time to Ukraine during the ongoing war with Russia to help train nurses treating patients in most high-conflict areas. 

After trips to Ukraine in October and December, Greg Klaus is back in Ukraine today, providing medical-care classes to nurses and healthcare workers helping with the war effort.

Klaus is from Middletown and has spent most of his career working for Yale New Haven Hospital. While in New Haven, he spent decades in the emergency room and trauma center. He's also worked with the United States Health and Human Services Department as part of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team, traveling across the country after natural disasters and, most recently, to hospitals to assist in pandemic response. 

In the summer of 2022, Klaus applied to be a part of a group of American healthcare workers tasked with training Ukrainian nurses on how to treat patients in critical care situations.  

“Some of the nurses, this was never part of their basic training,” Klaus said. “They are sponging up as much as they can. It’s not unusual that a nurse who might not ordinarily work in a pre-hospital environment or an emergency room is now suddenly taking care of someone who’s acutely injured, either from day-to-day trauma or from war wounds.” 

Klaus is part of a larger group of American healthcare workers volunteering with the International Medical Corps in partnership with Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. So far, he’s traveled to Ukraine three times: October and December of 2022 and February 2023.  

Classes are held in hotel meeting rooms with translators since Klaus and his fellow instructors do not speak Ukrainian. 

The journey to get to these sites takes days of travel. The teams first fly to Poland and cross the border on foot. Klaus has witnessed families who must separate at the border. 

“We all witnessed fathers and husbands bringing their families to the control point, kissing them goodbye, saying ‘I’ll see you later,’” he said. “Military-age men are not allowed to leave Ukraine because they could be called up, so to watch that happen was pretty sobering.” 

In October, Klaus traveled to Dnipro for the courses. He said that weeks before his team arrived, there were missile strikes not far from the hotel site where he stayed and worked. He noticed cracked windows on buildings, but his trip was relatively quiet aside from the occasional air raid siren. 

“We knew the country was at war, but everybody was going through day-to-day,” he explained. “There was food on the shelves, things were stocked, traffic on the streets, people walking, but when an air-raid siren went, everybody went undercover just like they were supposed to.” 

Days after his team left, Russian missile strikes targeted Dnipro and other cities across the country. In many of those attacks, they targeted civilian areas. 

Months later, in January, Dnipro became the site of one of the worst civilian attacks during the war. Russian forces attacked a large apartment building there. Dozens of people were killed and even more were injured in that attack.  

The December visit to Zaporizhzhia wasn’t as uneventful as his Dnipro mission. 

“The first morning after the first break, the security manager came out of his little room where he was monitoring activity and said we all needed to get to the shelter now,” Klaus said. “We all went down to the shelter, which was the parking garage of the hotel where the classes were being conducted. Literally, as we got onto the floor of the garage, we heard two large explosions.” 

He said the building didn’t shake, so he knew it wasn’t close, and the security officer speculated it was likely a few miles away. 

They later learned an electrical plant was hit. Russia has repeatedly denied attacking Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, blaming Ukraine for shelling its own facilities. 

The rest of the in-person course in Zaporizhzhia was cut short. Klaus and his fellow instructors had to teach the material via Zoom while they left for a safer site. 

"Just by watching the students on the screen, you’d see them flinch or you’d see them looking over their shoulders,” he said. “Some people would lose their connection. You’re asking, ‘What’s going on?’ More missiles are falling.” 

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Klaus repeatedly reiterated that he was just there to teach and didn’t have to treat patients. The Ukrainian students he was instructing, whatever their background and wherever their hometown, had to stay so they could work and save lives. 

“That’s an important thing to understand, I was there for two weeks,” he said. “I was able to walk into that life and walk out of it very quickly. These folks are living it every day.”

The mission on these trips has been relatively simple: teach the fundamentals of trauma care so Ukrainian nurses can provide care during the war. 

One course being offered is the Stop the Bleed program. It’s an American-born public health campaign with roots in Connecticut. It was created in response to the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. 

“Stop the Bleed was the outgrowth of the Hartford Consensus,” Klaus explained. “Dr. Lenworth Jacobs got together with other stakeholders to come up with a way of training non-traditional providers in hemorrhage control so that if you stop someone from bleeding, they might actually survive.” 

He said students who attended the Stop the Bleed program in Ukraine were people of all backgrounds, not just healthcare workers but firefighters, police officers, soldiers and even non-first responders like business owners. 

Klaus said that a physician who traveled with him to Ukraine received a phone call from one of his Stop the Bleed students who used his training to save someone’s life. 

“He said, ‘I want you to know, thank you for doing this training. I was there, and I was able to help. I was able to stop the bleeding,’” Klaus recalled. “I think that speaks for itself.” 

Klaus hasn't treated patients or worked on the front lines in Ukraine, but even so, he says his experience has given him a sense of what Ukrainians are living day in and day out. He calls Ukrainians warm, hearty, and resilient. He said once peace is restored, he wants to return to Eastern Europe one day. 

“You watch it on TV, you read the news reports or whatever,” he said. “Yeah, I’m living it for two weeks at a time, so to speak. It’s certainly not the same as living it day to day, having not lost family members in the conflict, having not to uproot my home and live out of suitcases and wonder if I’ll make it to safety with my children. Certainly, it’s been a sobering experience.” 

At the time of publication, Klaus is in Ukraine to lead more instruction.

Sara Sanchez is an anchor at FOX61 News. Follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.


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