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TOPEKA — Gleb Gluhovsky enlisted for military service as a way of repaying the country that saved his life as a teenage refugee from war-torn Eastern Europe.

Gluhovsky, a physician assistant and colonel in the Kansas Army National Guard, has been deployed to Kosovo, Egypt, Kuwait and Liberal, Kansas, where he helped keep meatpacking plants open at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic by testing workers.

Now, having recently returned from his latest deployment to the Middle East, Gluhovsky is helping refugees from Ukraine settle in the Kansas City area. His wife is from Crimea, an area of Ukraine that was annexed by Russia in 2014.

He works for Envision Healthcare, where he curates nurse practitioners and other physician assistants for seven Kansas City-area hospitals. He said his service in the National Guard is made possible because Envision always “had my back” while he was deployed.

For Gluhovsky, military service is “a really good way to make sure that you’re not living just for yourself but also giving back to others.”

“Should you serve, you will gain a new family that will care for you and help you throughout the career,” Gluhovsky said. “It doesn’t come without sacrifices, and strong family and strong home support is definitely a must. But at the same time, it’s extremely rewarding.”

From Chișinău to KC

Gluhovsky’s family lived in Chișinău, the capital of Moldova, when the former Soviet Union began to fall apart.

The family wasn’t Moldovan or Russian, he said, but spoke Russian.

“We kind of got caught in between the wave of Moldova nationalism and Russian anti-Semitism,” Gluhovsky said. “So it was really good of the United States to take us in at the time.”

Gluhovsky was 17 in 1991 when the family arrived in Kansas City as refugees. He found a couple of jobs to help support the family and began learning to speak English.

His interest in health care was inspired by the death of his grandfather, who suffered a heart attack when Gluhovsky was 6 years old. The ambulance service declined to send emergency medical workers because they didn’t want the death statistic on their record.

The “callous response” was shocking to Gluhovsky, who said the situation “beget the dream” of becoming an emergency physician.

In Kansas, he became a paramedic before signing up for military service in 1999. He then became a physician assistant, and commissioned officer, in 2002.

“Joining the military was just one of the ways that I could give back to the community and thank the United States for essentially saving my life and that of my family,” Gluhovsky said.

Dark times

Gluhovsky returned to Eastern Europe in 2007 for the first of his five deployments with the National Guard.

He provided border security for 13 months in Kosovo, where his language skills were needed. Later deployments took him to Sinai, Egypt, and to Kuwait, Iraq and Jordan.

Gluhovsky volunteered for National Guard mission to western Kansas “during the dark times of COVID,” when meatpacking plants teetered on the brink of closure because of mass infections. He worked on a community testing team for almost a year, screening employees so they could return to work if they weren’t sick.

Lee Norman, a retired colonel in the National Guard and former health secretary who managed the state’s COVID-19 response, said Gluhovsky’s leadership was “integral in protecting workers’ health and in keeping the plants functioning.”

“If the plants were not able to process livestock due to too few workers,” Norman said, “there would have been huge problems on our hands — both economic harm and the logistical issue: What do you do with livestock that back up with the ranchers and producers and cannot be processed?”

When vaccines became available, Gluhovsky helped with a mobile unit that immunized thousands of plant workers.

Now that he has returned from his latest deployment — this time to Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar — Gluhovsky has joined his wife in helping refugees who fled war in Ukraine and settled in Kansas City. He said his church has devoted resources to help five families with apartments, health care, driving lessons and anything else they need.

He said his wife’s relatives have all emigrated from Ukraine.

“It is heart-wrenching to see what’s going on, and we pray daily for the war to cease so that people can come back to their homes and rebuild,” Gluhovsky said. “In the meantime, we do what we can to provide support.”

Love for Kansas

Gluhovsky decided to stay in the state that provided him so many opportunities.

“Absolutely love Kansas,” Gluhovsky said. “Best place to raise children, if you ask me. Down to earth people. Strong family values. And just have been really blessed with good friends, good employers. And I wouldn’t trade Kansas Army National Guard for any other state guard.”

During his deployments, Gluhovsky relied on support from his wife, coworkers, friends and church to attend “the home front.”

He has worked at Envision for about 10 years and serves as a regional director of advanced practice providers for the company. Envision is one of the largest physician and medical providers in the United States.

Robert Page III, president of the Alliance American Group at Envision Healthcare, said the company is “so incredibly proud of our clinicians and clinical support teammates who dedicate their lives to helping those in need — through serving our country and our patients.”

“They make many sacrifices for the greater good, and we thank them and their families for all that they do,” Page said. “In turn, our national medical group is committed to supporting service members like Gleb as they work to help communities at home and abroad.”

Gluhovsky said health care work has become increasingly stressful since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. His advice to others in the profession: “Take it one step at a time.”

“People will need health care going forward. They always do,” Gluhovsky said. “And those of us that have gotten into medical profession did so not as a money-making business, but rather as providing help to those who need it most.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.