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Ukraine: 'I don’t see victims, I see survivors'

Emergency Health

Irina Yashchuk is Humanity & Inclusion’s Health Project Manager in eastern Ukraine. Every day, she and her team work to support people affected by the war.

Irina works as HI’s Health Project Manager in Dnipro, East of Ukraine. She is sitted next to her computer in her office

Irina works as HI’s Health Project Manager in Dnipro, East of Ukraine. | © O. Marikutsa / HI

My name is Irina Yashchuk and I come from the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, the capital of one of the country's most dynamic regions before the hostilities began in the summer of 2014. In May 2015, I joined the team of one of the international humanitarian organizations working in Donetsk at the time. Donetsk was already a non-Ukrainian government-controlled area. I worked on projects providing psychosocial support to the population and community-based protection. Two years later, the organization was forced to close its projects. After discussing it with my family, I decided to leave the city in 2017. For five years, I worked with international humanitarian organizations in Mariupol and Slavyansk. And, then, in February 2022 everything changed.

Leave or stay?

We were all faced with a choice: to leave or to stay. I made the difficult decision to stay. Firstly, because, like many displaced people, I didn't want to move far from home so that I could go back when conditions allowed. Secondly, I have knowledge and experience that can help support the population affected by the armed conflict. A lot of people left and after a while, there was simply no one to work with. That's why I decided to stay and help out here in Ukraine.

Since May 2022, I've been working for HI as Health Project Manager for the East of Ukraine. I'm based in the city of Dnipro. There's a lot of work because the project covers two regions— Dnipro and Poltava. Each region has a health team made up of physical therapists, psychologists and psychosocial support workers. From morning to night, I'm busy with meetings, field visits, supervision and reports.

A high level of anxiety

What I notice, whether during our meetings in the communities or with the authorities, displaced people or helpers, is the enormous need for mental health support. The whole country is affected by the armed conflict and its impact on people is really huge. People are having to deal with things they've never had to deal with before. We see a high level of anxiety, particularly about the future, and a lack of mechanisms to help us cope with the sense of uncertainty, as nobody knows when this situation will end. This is particularly true for vulnerable sections of the population such as people with disabilities, older people and children. Yet, since the beginning of the conflict, I don't see victims, I see survivors. HI is helping them to adapt, to find a way forward.

I remember, for example, a family from Mariupol who had lost everything: their loved ones and their home. After moving to the Dnipropetrovsk region and living in a center for internally displaced people, they found the strength to adapt to a new community, find work and support other displaced people. I also remember a social worker looking after two families of displaced people, older people living alone. She said to me, "I do this because we must stay human! We must always stay human!"

What do I miss most today?

My loved ones. My mother and my sister and her children still live in Donetsk. I haven't seen them for a year and a half. We only communicate via WhatsApp or Skype. I can't tell you how much I want to hug them. I miss our garden near the house. I miss the summer evenings when we would gather in that garden and talk for hours.

I miss my hometown. I remember its wide streets lined with acacias and lime trees in bloom. When the sun goes down in the evening, the whole town is filled with their fragrance.

Date published: 08/22/23


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