“First, we lost the dates and then the days of the week. It felt like one long day which would never come to its end”, says Svitlana.
Svitlana is a 57-year-old head doctor of the Primary Health Care Center (PHCC) in Trostianets, a small town of 20,000 people located 30 kilometers from the Russian border. Her office is neatly equipped and smells like medicine. There are several flowerpots on the window and the medical symbol icon hangs on the wall. At first, she is smiling and joking, but as we talk about the last few months, her voice begins to tremble.
“On the 24th of February, I was on my way to work, when my phone rang. That was my colleague calling. She said that the conflict had begun,” Svitlana says. “I understood that it might have started one day, but I refused to believe it. I quickened my pace and I noticed several columns of tanks in the street, dead soldiers lying on the road, and families shot in cars. It was so scary! I ran immediately to the Primary Health Care Center, where my colleagues were collecting all the medications and equipment so that we could help people and save their lives. We decided that doctors would work from home”, said Svitlana.
Svitlana and her colleagues never considered of leaving Trostianets. ‘’We could not abandon people without medical care. Since this happened on the first day of the conflict, no one had enough time to get out. I did not even want to try to leave because I knew I had to be here, I am needed here,” said Svitlana looking out of the window.
Svitlana pauses before continuing her story. There were so many tanks that she stopped trying to count them. There were no more deliveries of food to the town; people were sharing whatever they already had. Families were staying at home for fear of the conflict, but Svitlana and her colleagues continued to go out; their determination helped them conquer any fear.
“We didn’t know how to save people whose lives depended on insulin. A pharmacy near the railway station was damaged during fighting, and suddenly the crazy idea of what to do came to my head.”
After gaining permission from the owner of the pharmacy, Svitlana and her colleagues snuck into the destroyed store. They took any medications and diapers they could find. However, the medicines didn’t last long enough. Eventually people were dying.
“At our clinic, newborn babies with their mothers could also receive medical support. I was most worried about them. There were two young mums who didn’t live in Trostianets, they only gave birth to children. These women walked 6 kilometers with their newborn children to our doctors because there were no buses. It was dangerous to move around the town because you could be hit by shelling at any moment. All the time I was praying that they would be able to get home safely.”
After the fighting stopped in Trostianets, Svitlana and her colleagues began to assess the damage to the health facilities. Nearly all of the buildings had damage. The windows of the x-ray clinic had all broken, and the roof had caved in. Melting snow had caused a flood. Repairs had begun, and Svitlana asks us if we’d like to see the progress.
We walk to a yellow two-story building, which was visible from the window of Svitlana’s office. At this point, I understood why she was looking out of the window during our conversation. With great pride, she opens the door for us to go inside.
“When the children’s outpatient clinic was destroyed, 5,000 children living in this area were left without a place to get medical care. The building was in ruins. We’ve decided to re-equip this building and set up a children’s outpatient clinic here. When Medair agreed to help us, one of my dreams came true. Finally, our pediatricians will be able to receive children in comfortable conditions,” said Svitlana.
Medair’s Shelter team repaired the roof, replaced windows, and restored the heating in the building. Office and medical equipment were purchased, and soon the clinic will open or receiving patients. For Svitlana, she now dreams of peace the most. She wants to live without bombs that can destroy what she and other community members have been building lovingly for years.
Medair services in Ukraine are funded by PMU and Swiss Solidarity (CdB).
This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organization.