Voices from Ukraine

“I followed all the advice after my heart attack last year. But when I saw the Russian tanks roll into my village, that’s when I started smoking again.”

UK-Med nurse, Matilda Willow, has shared her stories from working in our mobile health clinics during her deployments to Ukraine.

When we think of the impact of war on health, we think of trauma caused by bombs, guns and tanks. Yet a war like the one currently underway in Ukraine has a much broader effect. 

It’s watching your blood pressure creep up as you live under daily stress. It’s seeing your diabetes control wrecked because the logistical disruption means you can’t get hold of your usual metformin.  

It’s fleeing your city without a plan for how to continue your cancer therapy. It’s not being able to stick to your recommended diet, because all you have to eat is the food donated to your shelter.  

It’s waking up, night after night, to the sound of the siren and never being quite sure that it’s safe. It’s knowing that your son, or your husband, or your father, or all three, are on the front line right now and there’s nothing you can do to protect them.  

It’s preparing to give birth to a baby, and knowing that instead of a warm, stable home in the city, you will be bringing them back to a school in an isolated, snow-bound village, where three families are sharing one classroom to sleep in and you can never be sure whether the electricity, the water and the heating will be on.  

These are not hypothetical cases. Every one of these is an individual I have met while working as a primary care nurse in Ukraine.

UK-Med’s mobile clinics are reaching these people, sometimes when no one else can. Unfortunately, we don’t have a magic wand. We can’t make all these problems go away. But we can listen to people. A lot of the time, yes, we can give practical advice, medications, referrals where needed. But sometimes the biggest benefit comes from being able to talk.  

It’s difficult to convey the balancing act of life continuing almost as normal on a background of something as abnormal as war. In Poltava, an orchestra gave a concert in the street beside our accommodation, but stopped when the air raid siren broke through the music. In Chernivtsi, our patients cheered when the lights came back on for the first time in three days, just in time to run an ECG for a vulnerable young boy. But they didn’t bat an eyelid when the power cut out again, mere minutes later.

matilda 2

As a nurse, alongside helping with physical needs I’m also constantly aware of the need for psychological first aid for our patients.

The majority of our team is now composed of committed local staff from doctors to logisticians to IT, many of whom had lost work due to the war or been displaced themselves. I’ve been told many times that I’m brave to come here. But I chose to be here, and I have somewhere safe to go home to. Any bravery from me is nothing compared to the sheer resilience of my local colleagues. 

UK-Med’s presence in Ukraine helps people to feel that they are not alone.

We are trying our best to stand with them at this most difficult time. The damage of this war spreads far beyond the fighting. Until peace is found, there will be an ongoing, vital need for humanitarian healthcare that we cannot neglect. 

matilda 3

Help get more medics like Matilda where they’re needed, when they’re needed by donating to our Big Give Christmas Challenge.

No Comments

Post a Comment