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  • Writer's pictureDiocese of WNC

Ukrainian Delegation Visits Waynesville Parish

Three Ukrainians arrived in Waynesville on April 5. This delegation is in the midst of setting up a rehabilitation center in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine, for veterans and their families affected by the war. John and Donna Culp, both members of Grace Church in the Mountains Episcopal, met them in Ukraine and decided to invite them to the Waynesville area. The Culps set up an educational tour for the Ukrainians supported by the Charles George Veterans Administration Medical Center in Asheville, the Richmond VA Polytrauma Center in Richmond, Virginia, and a range of Western NC-based veteran-run support groups and activities organized in conjunction with the Buncombe County Veterans Council.

The community is invited to attend a welcome reception and panel discussion featuring the Ukrainian delegation and the Culps on Sunday, April 14 from 9:15 – 10:15 am at Grace Church, 394 N. Haywood St. Waynesville, NC 28786.

When Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, John & Donna Culp were both participating in an Adult Forum study at Grace Church in the Mountains Episcopal. The study concerned the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor in 1930’s Germany, and how he made the deliberate decision to return to Germany from the U.S. to struggle against the Nazis. The decision ultimately cost him his life; but he wrote while in prison, and his words galvanized the Culps to act: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Initially, their focus was on John’s background as an Army and federal government bomb technician, or more formally, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) specialist. Donna, skilled as an occupational therapist both in the Air Force and in civilian life, and later working for the federal government as a logistician, supported John’s efforts by transporting EOD-related donations and coordinating medical support. Early on, she helped in the evacuation and medical treatment of a badly wounded U.S. Marine Corps veteran who was a Ukrainian volunteer.

During John’s first tour in Ukraine, he worked with the National Police EOD clearing Hostomel Airport and other areas of the thousands of explosive items there and training police. Donna traveled to Ukraine to bring EOD kits and a certificate from another Veteran’s organization to recognize Patron, the bomb-sniffing terrier who had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression. While there, both she and John were offered the opportunity to accompany a journalist to some of the hardest-hit areas, particularly Bucha. The impact of what they saw there, the evidence of the deliberate terror waged by Russians against the civilians there, further galvanized them.

Both continued to support Ukraine either by traveling there or raising money to support specific projects. In late summer 2023, John was planning a return to Kryvyi Rih in support of a local non-governmental organization (NGO) to continue his mission of EOD training to military and civilian groups. When the NGO learned of Donna’s background, military and civilian occupational therapist who had experience setting up OT clinics, they were especially excited; they were working with another local NGO to set up a rehabilitation center, named HART.

Once the couple arrived in Ukraine, John continued his work and Donna began to meet with clinicians and organizers for HART. Based on Donna’s recent two terms (four years) as the President of the Western North Carolina Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), she was well aware that Asheville’s Charles George VA Medical Center was one of the best in the nation. Additionally, there is a network of veteran-run Veterans Service Organizations in WNC that provide additional support to veterans. John and Donna both met with a Veterans organization in Ukraine, and at that point decided it would be worthwhile to bring some of the HART organizers to NC to see how the combination of official, VA support, worked alongside these private Veteran-run organizations.

The visiting delegation is sponsored by Grace Church, by the Moldova World Childrens Fund (in partnership with the Culps), and were formally invited by the Buncombe County Veterans Council, the NC Council of Chapters of MOAA, and Congressman Chuck Edwards.


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