Health education, an integral part of mission work, is crucial to international medical relief. It is a core element of helping Ukrainians so that they can help themselves. Even in a very stressful and challenging situation, the goal was to empower individuals to take their health into their own hands.
Volunteers, including Lisa Prytula, spent a lot of time on infection prevention in the massive transit center. Proper hand hygiene mattered more than ever. Everyone had hand hygiene gel to try to decrease the transmission of respiratory illnesses. Medication compliance was another vital part of health education: the importance of completing your antibiotic course, not sharing antibiotics, and returning to the clinic if symptoms were not improving.
Besides, when leaving the clinic, Ukrainians were at risk of human trafficking, which includes sex trafficking, prostitution, labor bondage, and forced labor such as farming or working as a nanny. Volunteers also talked about that, ensuring their patients are educated not just about their health but also about potential risks to their life and safety abroad.
As a Ukrainian, Lisa Prytula forged a special bond with her patients. Sharing their stories (all names are changed for confidentiality,) she outlined the most common conditions her team had treated.
This 17-year-old young man arrived at the center all alone. His parents remained in Ukraine. When a missile their apartment, Artem escaped. Lisa was struck by how thin he was, and Artem was also diagnosed with pneumonia. Artem planned to stay in the transit center until he turned 18 and then go to the Netherlands.
Natalia, Oksana (10), and Dmytro (5)
Natalia, a young mother, was on the verge of mental collapse, doing everything she could to remain strong for her children. Her husband stayed in Ukraine to fight. They escaped a village that had recently become Russian-occupied. Oksana and Dmytro were lethargic and very sick with fever and gastrointestinal disease. With medical help, they started feeling better. Natalia put her name on the list for a bus to Estonia, where her friends from the village had already found shelter.
A young man in his twenties, Ivan had a known history of schizophrenia. When his village was attacked, and he escaped, Ivan separated from his family. Although he had a list of necessary medications, he had none of them. Lisa was so glad to restart his treatment and, with the help of Polish authorities, she even found a smaller home placement where Ivan could be supervised. An image seared into Lisa’s memory was that of her American colleague patiently listening to Ivan’s recollections for hours.
The retired school teacher had hypertension and a bad case of pneumonia. She escaped when her apartment building got struck by Russian missiles, and her sister died. Katya had been at the transit center for almost two months and had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. “I just want to go home,” she replied when asked about her plans. Katya received treatment for her hypertension and pneumonia. Lisa visited the elderly teacher every day. One incident especially pulled at her heartstrings. Katya’s glasses were broken; she somehow taped one of the shattered lenses together. When they got her new glasses, Katya cried at being able to see again.
Petro, Olena, and baby Marko
The young couple had a baby just two days before Russia invaded Ukraine. They initially escaped to western Ukraine, then moved to the transit center. As Petro was a citizen of another country, the family managed to stay together. Olena suffered from severe post-traumatic stress, but Petro supported her with all his power, wrapping his arms around her as she was breastfeeding Marko. Within hours of their arrival at the center, Marriott offered them a free hotel room with meals included to protect the baby from infectious diseases in the center. Their photos in the hotel room were the first time Lisa saw them smile. Olena received treatment for her depression and postnatal stress, and the family connected with Polish healthcare for ongoing care.
Lyudmyla, Ivanka, and Andriyko
Lyudmyla is a middle-aged nurse who arrived at the transit center with her adult daughter Ivanka and her infant grandchild Andriyko. Russians attacked their city with missiles, but the family remained there for a long time. Lyudmyla felt that the hospital she worked in needed her. Then the hospital got bombed and destroyed; people died. “I realized I needed to save my daughter and grandson,” she said. The women escaped, and Lyudmyla’s husband and son-in-law stayed to fight in Ukraine. She hadn’t heard from her husband for quite some time.
Lisa spent a week at the Polish center, which housed the Boyarka Kyiv Regional Orphanage. One of the volunteers at the center was Lesya, a former member of the orphanage staff in Kyiv. Lesya had to take care of three babies: two twins, and another baby, all less than six months of age. She had no backup and was responsible for them 24/7. All the while, her adolescent children remained with Lesya’s parents in Ukraine, and her husband was also there, fighting Russians. Lesya was desperate to go home to her family, but she couldn’t leave the babies alone. Lisa Prytula took care of the babies for Lesya so she could rest, shower, and call her family in Ukraine.
Lisa Prytula wraps up her lecture with words of admiration for the Polish welcome of Ukrainians and Ukrainian bravery, determination, grace, and gratitude. As an experienced medical professional, she admits to operations’ unprecedented scale and complexity in aiding Ukrainian refugees. “It was some of the hardest emotionally and even physically works I’ve ever done. But I can’t wait to do it again.”
The joint effort, both on the governmental and individual levels, continues to help Ukrainian refugees. Donating money is the fastest and most flexible way to support this effort. Lisa Prytula concluded her presentation with gratitude to her healthcare colleagues, friends, and family, many others who generously donated over $20,000. These funds helped purchase medications, medical, and other much-needed supplies for the Ukrainian community in Poland. Prytula recommends raising funds for other necessities. “I saw many examples of unsolicited medications and supplies that were expired or weren’t useful, like an entire crate of extra large latex gloves. It really just clogs the supply chain. Ukraine and the EU have advanced healthcare systems. And they have very rigorous standards, just like we do in the US. So to best support humanitarian aid and relief, let’s not send unsolicited supplies and think about how we can raise more money.”