One year ago, on February 24th, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine setting off one of the largest humanitarian crises in Europe since World War II. Since this fateful day:
With your support, International Medical has responded. Over the past year, we have:
As there appears to be no end to the violence in sight, we encourage you to stay involved. Thank you again for your support over the past year.
The Russian invasion has changed the daily life of every Ukrainian. Though the Ukraine army has been defending the country on the frontlines, medical workers have played a pivotal role, treating wounds and injuries caused by war, as well as “internal wounds” caused by acute stress.
Dr. Taras is living with the consequences of the war in the west of Ukraine. He works as the head of the emergency medical care department in Stryi, part of the Lviv Regional Center for Emergency Medical Aid and Disaster Medicine. During the first days of the invasion, he experienced both professional and personal stress, as he coordinated his department’s work and tried to cope with the uncertainty of war. So the training in psychological first aid (PFA) offered by International Medical Corps was a breath of fresh air for him.
Dr. Taras was attending his master’s program at Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv when the Russian invasion began. Despite being on leave for studies, he left the university immediately and headed to Stryi. On his way, he saw military equipment moving to the east, while planes roared overhead. “I have terrible memories and bad feelings,” Taras says.
Even though his ward had received information from the Ministry of Health to use in an emergency, his workers were stressed and confused, because no one expected the war in the 21st century. Moreover, no one knew if Ukraine would stand if Russia invaded.
He didn’t want to leave the country where he was born, studied, married and had children. The only question that Dr. Taras had at that moment was, “How should I behave as a responsible father, husband and citizen of my country?”
Dealing with the Consequences of War
Dr. Taras admits that his workload during the war has increased significantly. The number of requests have increased by 20–25% because of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled to the west from warzones in the east (the population of Stryi, for example, has doubled during the war). In addition, his center has taken on the role of acting as a logistics hub for transporting heavily wounded people abroad for specialized care. Meanwhile, many medical workers have quit or fled abroad to seek safety. The workload today is so heavy that it’s hard not to burn out.
However, the biggest problem is the lack of funding because of the war. “We’re experiencing a significant resource limitation, except for critical costs. There is not enough money for wages, capital expenditures or everyday recreation for workers,” Taras explains.
Also, the authorities have cut overtime pay, so even if his workers work more than one shift due to high demand for services, they won’t be paid—which frustrates and demotivates people during emotionally hard times.
These are just some of the reasons why Dr. Taras says that the PFA training offered by International Medical Corps is useful both when offering assistance to patients who are experiencing emotional distress or mental health conditions due to the war and for himself and his staff in the context of their daily work. He and his colleagues are used to helping patients first, and not themselves. Yet such self-care is essential.
“When you arrive at a call,” he explains, “it’s hard to keep hold of yourself, especially if it’s a situation like a traffic accident, where there could be a lot of blood or even injured children. It’s a stressful situation. If you don’t keep your composure, you can’t provide help adequately and competently. Therefore, learning how to take care of yourself is essential.”
International Medical Corps’ PFA trainers helped them understand how to practice healthy coping mechanisms and promote their well-being, rather than unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol or smoking, to maintain emotional stability and practice techniques that release stress, particularly at work.
“It’s a shame that we only got to this training now, when the war gave us a reason to think about our mental health,” Dr. Taras say. “In fact, this knowledge is essential, even without war.”
Caring for Yourself, Caring for Others
Now Dr. Taras’s team is equipped with the knowledge they received during the PFA training on how to help themselves first after a hard day or even during the workday. It helps them endure the times when they’re feeling low and not self-blame themselves during those times. In addition, during the course the staff learned terms they could use to describe their emotions, and started talking to each other to provide support during everyday conversations.
“When they communicate, they begin to advise each other to temporarily leave the task or drop it”—a technique that teaches people to, if possible, walk away from a problem when it can’t be solved right away, he says. “Or, on the contrary, they say: ‘Stay grounded, friend, because you don’t look very good.’ People began to pay attention to their own well-being. This is a huge step forward for my people,” he shares.
International Medical Corps conducts in-person PFA training for IDPs, healthcare and social workers, and for representatives from the local administration. However, Dr. Taras is convinced that this training could be useful for anyone.
International Medical Corps agrees, which is why it offers an abbreviated “Principles of Psychological First Aid” training course online. The free, two-hour course is available in Arabic, English, French, Spanish and Ukrainian.
Dr. Taras is also working to spread the word about the importance of self care in a culture that has a bad perception of—and sometimes stigmatizes—mental health support, even in the midst of war. But he thinks that the PFA training could help, since it’s easy to take and simple to understand: “If you want the jam to be sweet, you need to add sugar. If you put a little, it will still be sour. It is necessary to dedicate as many people as possible to the issue of psychological and mental health.”
In early August, International Medical Corps delivered the first three courses of its Trauma Care Response training program. The training program is a six-course curriculum, developed in partnership with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI), aiming to address immediate healthcare needs in Ukraine related to trauma, mass casualty and mass disruption.
Instructors from HHI and International Medical Corps delivered courses to healthcare providers and first responders in Kyiv during the six-day training. The first course—which focuses on chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) threats— provides participants with the knowledge and skills to care for victims of CBRNE attacks in pre-hospital and hospital settings, including training on decontamination, medical management, antidotes, PPE donning/doffing and medical staff safety.
The CBRNE course, which was delivered to two cohorts and included separate sessions of training-of-trainer certification, reached 119 participants. The second course, Mass Casualty Management (MCM)—a comprehensive, four-day course based on World Health Organization/Pan American Health Organization standards—focuses on mass-casualty incident training at the individual level while also covering the logistical setup of healthcare facilities and the creation of mass-casualty plans at the facility and organizational level. The course reached 11 participants from four health facilities.
The third course, Stop the Bleed, teaches bystanders how help people who are bleeding if medical professionals have not yet arrived. The course, which was delivered to two separate cohorts, reached 70 participants. The next three courses will be delivered later in August, with subsequent trainings continuing for 10 weeks.
Training has been an intregral part of International Medical Corps' response since Russia's invasion in February. This has included Psychological First Aid and trauma training in neighboring countries so those receiving refugees are better able to help people in need.
83-year-old Svetlana was not wearing a bloodied bandage as she waited in a Romanian refugee reception center after crossing the border from Ukraine. She did not need to be rushed to the hospital or given an emergency dose of medication.
But it would be unthinkable to say that Svetlana, now a refugee with an uncertain future and a recent past filled with violence, escaped the war in her homeland unharmed.
Unlike physical wounds that demand immediate attention, the emotional scars left after witnessing conflict and loss are often left untreated, and vulnerable refugees and other survivors are made to suffer in silence.
That is why International Medical Corps integrates mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services into our emergency response efforts.
MHPSS activities have been in high demand since the outset of the invasion in Ukraine, and our MHPSS team continues to implement both immediate and long-term program efforts. This includes a strategy comprising three pillars: 1) help for helpers, including staff support and training to healthcare providers, service providers and community leaders; 2) providing services to conflict-affected communities and IDPs through partners and direct services; and 3) social and behavior-change communication focused on destigmatizing MHPSS and promoting help-seeking behavior.
Our team has also observed that tension is growing between host communities and internally displaced persons (IDPs). To alleviate these growing tensions, International Medical Corps is focusing on community-based interventions that work to lessen the strain. Our MHPSS team is providing training in psychological first aid (PFA), as well as providing training in “Doing What Matters in Times of Stress—Self-Help+” to key community members, such as teachers, city council members, religious leaders and local organization staff members. International Medical Corps is also providing ongoing training for hospital staff at the Chernihiv Neuropsychiatric Hospital.
As of June 23, International Medical Corps had provided 877 MHPSS consultations and trained 659 people in PFA and psychosocial support in Ukraine and the region.
The generosity of GlobalGiving and its community of donors helps International Medical Corps address the physical and emotional scars of those affected by the conflict in Ukraine.
Six weeks. It has been six weeks since the fighting started in Ukraine. Just six weeks for the conflict to precipitate the largest refugee crisis Europe has seen since World War II. Just six weeks for violence and chaos to completely engulf the eastern European nation of 44 million, the brutality only growing each day.
Already, over 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes to neighboring countries or other parts of Ukraine, the majority forcibly displaced from their towns and communities by imminent danger. Beyond the staggering numbers of displaced, injured and killed, there have been dozens of confirmed attacks on healthcare facilities.
The destruction of infrastructure has left nearly a million Ukrainians without power, and 6 million without reliable access to safe water. In the eastern city of Mariupol, security threats have prevented desperately needed humanitarian convoys from delivering any aid for over a month. Needless to say, the situation is dire, especially for the many millions of Ukrainian children throughout the war-torn region.
This is a human crisis of horrific proportions.
As the majority of Ukrainians evacuating are women and girls, protection programs remain essential. And amidst the COVID pandemic, the overcrowding of evacuation centers, lack of safe water and suboptimal vaccination coverage have increased the risk of disease transmission. In the face of these mounting odds, International Medical Corps is standing firm in its mission and duty to save lives.
Already, our teams have delivered 112 pallets of vital medicines, supplies and health kits to 12 health facilities in Ukraine — materials capable of supporting over 300,000 people for three months. International Medical Corps continues to provide MHPSS consultations in southeast Ukraine, having provided more than 120 consultations in the last month, and is providing remote psychological first-aid (PFA) training to first responders. Our gender-based violence teams are working to distribute dignity kits and other resources for evacuating women and girls.
Across the borders of adjacent nations Poland, Moldova, and Romania, critical services including health, MHPSS and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) have been bolstered by International Medical Corps’ teams. Priority deliveries have included WASH supplies and non-food items (NFIs), including sleeping items, towels, hygiene kits and more. In response to the crowded, unsanitary conditions in many locations, we have also delivered thousands of pieces of personal protective equipment and COVID-19 rapid antigen tests to border crossings to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and other communicable diseases.
To date, International Medical Corps has directly reached more than 313,000 Ukrainian men, women, and children with healthcare and hope. This live-saving work is directly enabled by GlobalGiving, its community of donors and others. Together, we are relieving suffering and saving lives.
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