Born in 1921 in Belarus (White Russia), the author lost his father (a doctor) as a baby and was raised by his mother who worked as a surgical nurse and midwife. He excelled in school and was on the verge of entering medical school, but the political upheaval of World War II drew him away from studies.
Drafted to serve in the Polish army, the eighteen year-old became a sergeant in charge of a platoon by June 1939 fighting against Germany along its border with Poland. Three months later he was captured and imprisoned in cruel conditions. By November, he escaped and began a long walk home, helped by strangers, only to find that the Soviets had taken over. Arrested again, this time for being anti-Communist, he spent January to June 1941 in a Soviet prison, and narrowly avoided execution when the Russians retreated at the German invasion of Minsk. Another return home was met with the tragic news that his mother had been killed when German bombs hit the hospital in which she worked.

Enraged by the succession of destructive invaders, Ragula helped create a nationalist freedom army, the Eskradon, ironically with German support, and a Bulletin to inform citizens and lobby for better conditions. By the time World War II drew to an end he was married to Ludmila (in 1944) and on the move, seeking a medical education.

As refugees, the couple moved to Marburg, Germany in 1945, where Ragula began medical school. But money was always a problem and the post-war restructuring of Europe made them fearful. Hearing of a program for refugees in Louvain, Boris entered Belgium illegally in 1949 and finally completed his medical degree in 1951 at age thirty-one. In 1954, the couple settled in the medium-sized town of London Ontario, Canada. There Ragula interned and set up a family practice. He and Ludmila raised their family of four in peaceful security that contrasted starkly with their own upbringing.

Precocious in promoting health, Ragula campaigned tirelessly against smoking, inactivity, and overeating, and he worked in aboriginal communities, convinced that a doctor's role was to prevent disease as much as it was to treat it.  Here too he found enemies and friends.
In 1963, Ragula was involved in a non-related kidney donation between patients-a selfless act that touched him deeply. For him, it represented the pinnacle of scientific achievement and epitomized how humans should care for one another.


Putting the first person narrator, Dr. Ragula, together with ghost writer Dr. Sanmiya was the inspiration of historian of medicine, Dr. Charles Roland of McMaster University (1933-2009).
The longer first part of the book documents the complexities of the turmoil of Eastern Europe during the 1930s and 1940s and the dramatic circumstances of Ragula's precarious youth and improbable good fortune. The second part veers away from personal details and feelings to concentrate on his medical life. Lucky or clever, Ragula stumbled on or motivated people to assist him in every dire situation-a farmer's daugther, a kindly priest, even Pope Pius XII and his assistant Montini (later Pope Paul VI)--although Ragula's spirituality lay outside formal religion. The scholarships provided by the Church helped several other Belarusian refugees.

The injustices of his youth made Ragula an indefatigable defender of democratic and social freedoms and a lifelong supporter of his Belarusian homeland and culture. It is tempting to see the same crusader spirit in his vision of medical duty. The memoir might also provide a starting point for discussing the role of political engagement in medical endeavour.
Ragula adored science yet he found contentment and purpose as a busy family doctor. Those of us who were his patients had little idea of the tragedy and strife in his past.


McGill Queen's University Press

Place Published

Montreal & Kingston



Page Count