Wilmette family’s charity sending medical supplies to Ukraine

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Wilmette family’s charity sending medical supplies to Ukraine

Members of the Poylin family and friends pack up medical supplies and other donations at their home in Wilmette on Dec. 31, 2022. Vitaliy Poylin, a surgeon at Northwestern University Hospital, was born and raised in Kiev, Ukraine, and regularly returned to his home country to help train doctors. When the war started, he and his wife Natasha founded Pack the Plane to Ukraine to ship medical supplies to hospitals in his native country. They Poylin's are parishioners at Sts. Joseph Francis Xavier Parish in Wilmette. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Dr. Vitaliy Poylin operates on a patient during a mission trip to Ukraine in 2022. (Photo provided)
Dr. Vitaliy Poylin prepares surgical equipment for shipping. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Daniel Poylin checks the labels of medical supplies. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Andrea and Jordan Taylor sort through donated coats. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Natasha Poylin labels a box of coats. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Liam Poylin sorts through hats, scarves and gloves donated by several area churches. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Members of the Poylin family and their friends spent the chilly afternoon of New Year’s Eve in their Wilmette backyard, sorting medical supplies, clothing and other items and packing them into dozens of boxes that will be shipped to Ukraine.

The effort was part of the family’s nonprofit, Pack the Plane to Ukraine, which they founded shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Vitaliy Poylin, now a colorectal surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, was born and raised in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. He became a nurse there at age 14 and was training to be a doctor when his family immigrated to the United States four years later.

About six years ago, Vitaliy Poylin started going back to Kyiv on medical missions to teach laparoscopic surgery, and he developed good relationships with surgeons there. In fact, just before the war began, he and a team of transplant surgeons from Northwestern Memorial Hospital traveled there on a mission.

“He had a great network of all these surgical colleagues in Kyiv, so when the war happened, we got very busy very quickly collecting medical supplies,” said his wife, Natasha Poylin, who is a trauma surgical nurse at the University of Chicago Medical Center. “The surgeons would call him and say, ‘This is what we need.’ Hospitals here were amazing. Everything is donated.”

The nonprofit has expanded its efforts to collecting clothing, toiletries and diapers to be shipped to a church that operates an internal refugee camp program in Lviv and Uzhnorod.

The nonprofit covers the cost of shipping on all the donated items. The St. Vincent de Paul Society at Sts. Joseph and Francis Xavier Parish, where the family are members, has supported its efforts, along with area faith communities, schools and individuals, Natasha Poylin said.

In June, Pack the Plane to Ukraine paid for a team of surgeons from Boston and Chicago, including Vitaliy Poylin, to travel to hospitals in western Ukraine and Kyiv to operate and to drop off supplies. The surgeons also taught new techniques and surgical methods to the Ukrainian doctors.

“Even from that trip, they are calling and asking questions and still doing some of the things that we taught them there. The hope is to just keep it going,” Vitaliy Poylin said.

“That was a really cool thing, and we’re gearing up to hopefully do that again in a couple months. Our surgical friends are super willing with their time,” Natasha Poylin said.

While donations of medical supplies have remained steady, donations of humanitarian supplies have slowed, she said, so the nonprofit is pivoting to raise money to purchase the items instead.

Supplies are greatly needed, Natasha Poylin said.

“It was a country that was not resource wealthy before this happened,” she said. “They’re definitely hurting for resources,” she said.

Many of the supplies in Ukraine go directly to the front lines, so cities like Kyiv, who are seeing an influx of people who need medical aid, are in desperate need, she said.

“These are my friends and colleagues, and you feel like you need to do something,” Vitaliy Poylin said.

The material supplies and donations help, but there is more to it.

“But also the fact that people are helping is just as important, because it is important for them to know that they are not alone in this,” he said. “I think that is just as important as the material things that we are sending them. That’s what we hear when we hear back from them.”

Owing to their familiarity with Ukraine, the Poylins know the locations and people receiving donations. Hospitals in western and central Ukraine receive the supplies and then distribute them to smaller hospitals in the area.

“Even before the war, a lot of the medical instruments were not great and we already had a project with Northwestern and them to try and update and do other things,” Vitaliy Poylin said. “This has kind of accelerated things. People have been very generous with their donations and everything else, and hopefully we can keep it going so they can come out better on the other side.”

For more information or to donate, visit


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