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In Ukraine, long-term health consequences of war surface

Emergency Health Rehabilitation

Two years after the invasion by Russia, Humanity & Inclusion is seeing an increase in the health needs of at-risk populations, particularly those living near the front line in the East of Ukraine.

Antonina Kolytova, 68, participates in a rehabilitation session with HI physical therapist, Maria Topka. Novomoskovsk, Ukraine.

Antonina Kolytova, 68, participates in a rehabilitation session with HI physical therapist, Maria Topka. Novomoskovsk, Ukraine. | © T. Nicholson / HI

Antonina and her husband fled the frontline town of Vuhledar to seek refuge in Novomoskovsk, an industrial town situated 15 miles from Dnipro in the East of Ukraine, with a population of around 70,000.

In their 60s, this couple lives in an old building, accessible only by elevator. This type of building is not often equipped for people facing mobility barriers. Antonina, who was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer when the conflict started, suffered a stroke shortly after moving here.

A woman sitted on a sofa making exercise with her arm raised in front of her physiotherapist Maria that is showing us rehabilitation exerices for hands
In their new home, the bed, sofa, walker and toilet have all been put in the living room to make it easier on Antonina. Recently, Antonina has noticed that her hand feels cold and numb. "It doesn't feel like my hand, it feels like it's in a glove," she tells us. Antonina suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome, which could be due to her stroke or to the intravenous drip inserted in the hospital.

Maria Topka, 22, a physical therapist at HI, visits Antonina at home to provide her with some individual rehabilitation sessions. Maria has shown Antonina strength training exercises that she can do on her own. As well as rehabilitation support, HI has recently donated Antonina’s toilet chair and walker to make her day-to-day life easier.

Difficulties in accessing healthcare are among the most frequent humanitarian needs encountered by HI teams in Ukraine.

"This is particularly the case in rural areas, territories close to the front line or in the oblasts bordering Russia," explains Rhiain Moses, HI's senior project manager in Dnipro, eastern Ukraine.

'Small miracles' can happen!

It is people like Antonina, more vulnerable to exclusion and lack of access to appropriate care, that HI's mobile teams are seeking to support in the East of Ukraine. Since the start of HI's emergency response in Ukraine in February 2022, more than 12,000 rehabilitation sessions have been carried out.

And this support is bearing fruit. And even bringing about "small miracles," for people like Serhii, 36, who lives with his mother in a camp for internally displaced people in Pavlorad. Serhii and his mother have already lived through 10 years of war.

Serhii's life was turned upside down on Jan. 30, 2016, when a rocket struck his hometown of Avdiivka; he was hit by the shockwave and seriously injured. Due to the intensity of the fighting, doctors and neurologists had already left the town and it took five days for a doctor to arrive from Kramatorsk. Serhii could not be evacuated and was operated on in the town. He underwent a craniectomy: a third of his brain was removed to keep him alive. His skull is now held together by metal plates.
A man trying to walk in a corridor with the help of his physiotherapist The doctors had given up on the young man, saying he would never walk again. But now, after much training and rehabilitation sessions with HI’s physical therapist, Serhii can take a few steps and get around on crutches, despite his tremors.

Irina Yashchuk, HI health project manager in the East of Ukraine, concludes:

"Reduced access to such basic needs as medical care has serious consequences: a general deterioration in people's health and the worsening of chronic diseases or the appearance of new diseases in certain people who access to HI services. Exposure to chronic stress in the context of an ongoing war can also affect a human’s health, weakening them both psychologically and physically."

Date published: 02/08/24


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