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SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – A former Vietnam refugee and American combat veteran is using his decades of experience to help Ukrainians.
Quan Nguyen has seen all sides of war.
He just got back from two months in Kyiv and Lviv, Ukraine, where he helped refugees.
He says one of the toughest things he saw was an injured four-year-old in the back of an ambulance calling for his mom.
Nguyen is settling back into his Kaysville, Utah, home.
He and his wife Amy started the nonprofit Task Force 824 after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Aug. 24 is the date of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
One week after creating the charity, Quan was headed to the war zone.
“I think we were in bed one night, and he just kind of looked over, and I was like, ‘I know what you’re going to say,'” Amy said.
“In the initial days when I got into Kyiv, it was a ghost town,” Quan said.
He helped get refugees shelter, transportation and critical supplies.
“Food prices skyrocketed, so there were people that couldn’t afford to buy a lot of groceries, so we made the decision: OK, great, I’ll just go to a local store or a grocery store and buy as much food as I can.”
Quan served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And he knows what it’s like to be forced from your home because he and his family escaped Vietnam following the war.
“We got on the fishing boat, and unfortunately the fishing boat — the engine died, so we were left stranded in the ocean for about a week or two. We had to ration water, and then eventually we were caught,” he said. “They sent my dad to a hard labor camp where his food consists of pig feed. Sometimes they didn’t get enough water, so they basically reconstituted their urine and try to filter it and drink it.”
Quan says he sees himself in some of the refugees, who had to pack up and leave at a moment’s notice with just one bag of belongings in hand.
The memories of escaping Vietnam and living in refugee camps stick with him.
“It’s just like my family. We came here to literally with whatever we could carry,” he said. “Then the PTSD itself, I think is very similar.”
Now, the memories of the Ukrainian war will stick with him, too.
One memory is when he was asked to help with an injured four-year-old in the back of an ambulance because there is a paramedic shortage.
The ride was 10 hours.
“The medication wore off, and he was telling his mom, ‘Everything hurts my ears, my eyes, my hair,’ and I’m looking at her, she’s looking at me,” he said. “The only thing that we were given from the doctors was I think it was ibuprofen… I was just trying to think, racking my brain, what else can we do, make him comfortable, distract him. That was a tough one.”
While he was in Ukraine, his wife Amy handled the nonprofit’s logistics and social media, but they both have plans to return this summer along with their three kids.