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Books Bound for Doctors in Ukraine

Ventura County’s physicians came up with their own answer to glasnost Tuesday: They contributed 1,966 pounds of medical books and journals from their office libraries to the Soviet Union’s Kiev Medical Institute.

Carefully wrapped in watertight paper and packed in U.S. Postal Service mail sacks, more than 500 reference works, covering virtually every major specialty from pediatrics to orthopedics, began a journey of about two months at the Ojai Post Office.

Dr. William Pugh, an Ojai physician and anesthesiologist, helped carry the 34 sacks from a moving van to the post office loading dock. Pugh started the six-month drive to collect books for the Soviet teaching hospital last year while serving as president of the Ventura County Medical Society.

“I knew we would get some contributions, but I had no idea the response would be this great,” Pugh said. He said some doctors took time out from their practices to personally deliver books to the society’s office in Ventura from as far away as Simi Valley.

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Many of the books shipped to Kiev, the capital of the Ukrainian Republic, are newly published, Pugh said. But, at his request, some doctors contributed volumes that were 10 to 15 years old. “That’s perfect for their needs,” he said. “They’ve done some very interesting things, but, in general, Soviet medical technology is about that far behind us.”

None of the textbooks are in Russian, but Pugh said many Soviet physicians and medical students can read technical books in English.

The book drive was inspired by Brett Smithers, a Los Angeles attorney who has retired in Ojai. Smithers said he learned of the Kiev Medical Institute’s shortage of medical books while visiting the Soviet Union in 1988.

“Last year, while I was a patient at the UCLA Medical Center, I mentioned this to one of the doctors there,” Smithers said. “A few weeks later, when I went back, the doctor presented me with a 50-pound package of medical books. That convinced me that doctors are anxious to help one another, regardless of nationality.”

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A member of the nonprofit Institute of USSR-USA Relations, Smithers said he has been interested in strengthening U.S.-Soviet ties since World War II. In the war, the B-17 he was piloting was shot down and he was imprisoned by the Nazis. Many of his fellow prisoners were Russians, he said.

“I admire nothing about communism,” Smithers said, “but I’m happy to be part of an effort in which people in the West lend a hand to people in the East.”

Smithers said he and his wife, Chris, who teaches fourth grade at Topa Topa Elementary School in Ojai, have visited Kiev twice in the past two years. He said he is hopeful that Bucha, a town about 20 miles from Kiev, will soon become Ojai’s sister city.

Pugh and Smithers said they have been impressed with the widespread support for their effort. As an example, they cited Wayne Crain, manager of Hilford Moving & Storage, who stored and moved the books without charge.

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As for the postage, Pugh said the books will be shipped at a special rate of 72 cents a pound. At that rate, the shipment would cost about $1,430, but the Postal Service said it would not have a final postage bill until today.


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