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WHO and MSF Mobilize Volunteers in Ukraine

volunteers in Ukraine
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022, Ukraine’s health system has been operating under severe pressure. It has become increasingly crucial for international organizations to collaborate with local groups in order to respond to the health crises that the war posed. Two organizations that have done this are the World Health Organization (WHO) and Doctors Without Borders/Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF). Additionally, volunteers in Ukraine are proving crucial.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in Ukraine

Since the beginning of the war in February 2022, WHO has provided medical supplies and cooperated with neighboring countries that welcome and host Ukrainian refugees. The war has sapped Ukraine of resources to devote to health care, and there have been deliberate attacks on health facilities. In collaboration with Ukraine’s Ministry of Health, WHO plans to remain involved in Ukraine for the foreseeable future, giving support to the country’s overwhelmed medical professionals and facilities. It is doing so in several ways. It is building ‘healthcare hubs’ in heavily conflicted areas to treat patients suffering from war-related trauma.

Additionally, WHO successfully appealed for $147.5 million to foster humanitarian efforts, ensure emergency health care and help the country rebuild its health care system. Part of the funding will go to Ukraine directly, while the rest will go to surrounding countries with Ukrainian refugees, such as Moldova, Romania, Poland and the Czech Republic. Through this funding, health care facilities within Ukraine can increase their staff and have access to critical medical supplies such as ventilators, electric generators and ambulances. Between February and June of 2022, more than 1,300 new medical staff received training and the funding helped form more than 40 emergency response teams.

More funding will provide supplies to treat burns and chemical injuries and to handle mass casualties. The war has also led to an increase in psychological illness and distress – symptoms of these medical problems manifest in various forms, including sleeplessness, anxiety, grief and psychological pain. In collaboration with Olena Zolenska, the First Lady of Ukraine, WHO hopes to create a national mental health program.

Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Ukraine

The work of WHO alone is not enough to combat this crisis. Local organizations are proving essential in providing emergency humanitarian care, and MSF is helping mobilize local relief efforts. When investigating Ukraine’s needs, MSF noted how swiftly Ukraine’s population mobilized to create volunteer networks, NGOs and civil society groups. These quickly formed, efficient, local organizations are the main providers of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. MSF contributes to these groups by helping them with supplies and logistics to deliver food boxes and medications to remote areas, as well as by helping them coordinate emergency evacuations.

Coordinating Volunteers in Ukraine

One such local volunteer is Dmitry Zakharov, owner of a barbeque restaurant and car wash in Kharkiv, who was interviewed by MSF. Soon after the war broke out, Zakharov transformed his business into a hub for humanitarian aid. He began by distributing free water, and when a nearby meat factory stopped its operations, he gathered up what was left and distributed it to those who needed food. He turned his restaurant into a free medical clinic, and he coordinates volunteer efforts to serve free daily lunches to the community. Another volunteer is Yana Biletskaya, who has coordinated food and medical supply distribution from a massive storehouse near her home.

The need to provide mental health services has dramatically increased. Children and adults suffer from extreme anxiety. In coordination with MSF, volunteer teams provide mental health support in shelters, clinics and metro stations. They conduct individual and group mental health sessions to address issues of fear, stress, worry, hopelessness and panic attacks. While this is a good start, there is still a lot of work to do.

Other Organizations

Many other organizations are aiding these efforts. Team Rubicon coordinates volunteers in over 15 locations in Ukraine, Hungary and Poland. They treat wounds and chronic diseases no matter the condition – whether in a school or community center where hundreds of refugees sleep and live. Medical schools at Yale and Stanford have coordinated donations of medical supplies. Volunteers from the Global Surgical and Medical Support Group, a nonprofit, are training Ukrainian civilians on coping with wounds and fear.

There is a lot that still needs to occur. However, it is encouraging to see so many communities, organizations and volunteers working together, whether on the ground or from a distance, to help Ukraine in this time of need.

– Shiloh Harrill
Photo: Wikimedia Commons