In the early hours of Wednesday 23 March, six nurses and doctors from across the UK converged at Manchester airport to fly out to Ukraine.
Joining the nine members who are already there, they’ve started a static and mobile health clinic in Drohobych, about an hour south of Lviv. Before boarding their flight, we caught up with them all:
Dr Chris has been working for the out-of-hours GP service in Devon. “I think it’s important for us as individuals to look outwards,” he says.
“As GPs we’re usually very much focused on the local community – which is as it should be. But it’s sometimes more difficult to have a wider view and I think it’s important that those who can, should look beyond our own communities and countries and do our bit to help somewhere else.”
Dr Latif, also a GP from North Staffordshire said: “Whenever there’s conflicts in various parts of the world, as a human being it always affects you very deeply, seeing innocent people being bombed and traumatised by something that’s no fault of their own. You feel you want to reach out and help them in whatever way you can, and for me that’s utilising my medical skills.
“I suppose it boils down to why I became a doctor. At the end of the day, it’s that need and desire within you to try and help people who may be suffering or are in pain or distress, and do whatever you can to help alleviate it. It’s the reason I went into medicine, and why I’m going out to Ukraine.”
Bristol nurse, Melanie previously worked for UK-Med as a health advisor and emergency coordinator, and in the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC). She’s currently doing an MSc and had taken a study day when she got the call.
“With Ukraine I feel the same way I do about anyone affected by war – that civilians should not have to pay the price for military decisions and that it’s critical that the laws of armed conflict be followed so that crucial aid and humanitarian corridors can be implemented.
“The trauma aspect of conflict is undeniable, but there will be a huge-displaced population in Ukraine who need access to primary care and medicines for chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. There’s also increased risk of communicable diseases.
“Many of those now forced from their homes are elderly and young children, and I want to play my part in ensuring that as many of those people are getting the healthcare they need whilst they’re in this state of flux, waiting to see where their futures lie.”
With her forty years nursing experience, Lorraine says she received the call to go with a mixture of trepidation and gratitude for being able to help.
“My other half and friends and family are nothing but encouraging and proud.”
Paediatric nurse Becky, who received a British Empire Medal in 2021 for services to humanitarian response, also has more than twenty-five years’ experience in nursing.
“I’d spent two weeks feeling desperate to go, so felt a mixture of relief and a bit of trepidation when I found out I was,” she says. “I’ll be there six weeks, which is the longest I’ve been away from my husband and sixteen-year-old twins. But they’re really proud of me and happy to support what I’m doing.
“There was never really any doubt about going out. It’s just shocking this is happening virtually on our doorstep, and when you see the massive humanitarian need you can’t not respond. And that’s the reason I was never going to say no.”
Pictured above: The team making the final preparations before opening up the mobile and static health clinics.
Paula, an Emergency Department nurse living in Devon, said: “I think it’s important that if people identify they can help, within an official humanitarian aid organisation, then they should go.”
“I’m a little bit scared, but happy to be doing something. I can free myself up from my life relatively easily, and my matron was amazingly supportive in helping me to get released. My mum’s having my dogs and she cried when I left, but she’s also very supportive.
“It makes me feel really angry that the people of Ukraine are having to go through what they’re going through. There’s no rhyme nor reason to it, is there? So, I think it’s important that the rest of the world shows them as much support as we can.”
The UK-Med health clinics, set up in partnership with the Greek Catholic charity Caritas Ukraine, is providing care for the 15,000 internationally displaced people – mainly women, children and the elderly – who have taken up shelter in this city of around 75,000 people, situated in Western Ukraine.
For many of the thousands fleeing from the east it has become a major stop off point on the way to the border, while others are remaining there permanently. The UNHCR reports that there are now 6.5 million displaced people spread across Ukraine.