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The long-term impact of the war on the health of the most vulnerable


Emergency | Health | Ukraine | PUBLISHED ON January 24th 2024
Antonina Kolytova, aged 68, from Vuhledar, receives a rehabilitation and mobility session from HI's physiotherapist, Maria Topka. Novomoskovsk, Ukraine.

Antonina Kolytova, aged 68, from Vuhledar, receives a rehabilitation and mobility session from HI's physiotherapist, Maria Topka. Novomoskovsk, Ukraine. | © T. Nicholson / HI

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

Limited or no access to health care

Antonina and her husband fled the frontline town of Vuhledar to seek refuge in Novomoskovsk, an industrial town situated 25 kilometres from Dnipro in the East of Ukraine. with a population of around 70,000. This couple in their sixties now live in an old building, accessible only by lift. This type of building is not often equipped for people facing mobility barriers. Antonina, who was suffering from cancer and undergoing chemotherapy when the conflict broke out in Vuhledar, unfortunately suffered a stroke shortly after moving here.

In their new home, the bed, sofa, walker and toilet have all been put in the living room to spare Antonina as much effort as possible. 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 hospital.

Maria Topka, 22, a physiotherapist at HI, visits her to provide her with some individual rehabilitation sessions. Maria has shown Antonia strength training exercises that she can do on her own at home. As well as rehabilitation support, HI has recently donated Antonia’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", as with Serhii, 36, who lives with his mother in modular camp for internally displaced people in Pavlorad.

Serhii and his mother have already lived through ten years of war. Serhii was a cook when, on 30 January 2016, his life was turned upside down. A rocket fell on his home town of Avdiivka; he was hit by the shockwave and seriously injured. Due to the intensity of the fighting, the 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 therefore 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.

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 physiotherapist, 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 human’s health, weakening them both psychologically and physically."

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