A Tale of 2 Ukraines- Medical Care in War-Torn Lugansk and Peaceful Ukraine Part 2

Dr. Nikolai Vasilyov Lugansk Republic Hospital

In 2014, villages, towns, and sections of cities were destroyed near the front line in LNR(Lugansk People’s Republic) and DNR. Early on, a lot of people were forced to stay because the banks disappeared overnight. Your savings was gone and the banks were closed. Starting from what you would consider a normal life, imagine waking up without any access to your own savings.

The building you worked in was shelled and your workplace was destroyed, overnight. Many homes and apartments were shelled and are shelled on an ongoing basis. Imagine, in one brief moment, everything that can be taken for granted is gone.

Normal families raising children and working to provide college educations for them had their lives ripped out from under them. Retirees could no longer count on their pension. Insulin and other medications for chronic illnesses were no longer available.

The following quote is from 2014 when Ukraine’s nationalist Maidan uprising and subsequent coup were almost over. It summarizes despair well. It epitomizes the need for some form of normality, just to be able to say you/your loved one’s life matters/mattered and that you too are a human being.

“You cannot leave everything: Your work, your house, the proof you had a life- you can’t throw it all away.

People hang on by the skin of their teeth. After all that has happened, they hope for any miracle.” – A Letter from Kiev

From 2014 until today at the frontlines and in the gray zone (neutral zone) between LNR (Lugansk People’s Republic), DNR, and the Ukrainian army, these are the stressors families are going through on a daily basis.

Like many people that have written a lot about the war in Donbass, I’ve written about the men and women that gave up everything to volunteer and defend the people in Donbass from being relocated, run through filtration (read: concentration) camps, tortured, and killed. All of this because the people wouldn’t support an aberrant political ideology commonly called Nazism.

From 2014 onward there have been groups of people volunteering in LNR (Lugansk People’s Republic) and DNR working daily miracles to patch up people’s lives, giving them enough hope to hold on.

For a soldier that has been in the trenches for a month, heroes are the men and women that jump into harm’s way to get the electricity back on and water running so they and their families can take a hot shower or sleep in a warm room once in a while. The electrical workers are heroes provide a degree of normalcy to the soldier and civilians near the front line towns and villages.

They keep the power on for small businesses to keep running so even people in small villages can buy bread and other necessities. In towns and villages across LNR, electrical workers volunteer to get the power back on during the worst weather. Near the front lines, many electrical workers have been shot by the Ukrainian army.

Doctors, nurses, and ambulance drivers go elbow deep into the day’s worst tragedies. In 2014, they weren’t getting paid to go the front lines to pick up and treat soldier and civilians. There was no one to pay them for quite a while. The government in LNR and DNR had to form to provide social services.

Lugansk, LNR boasts one of the best hospitals for both lung and cancer treatment to come out of the Soviet system. Because of the many coal mines, lung disease research and treatment remains a priority. Lugansk Republican Hospital has also been a leader in cancer studies and treatment. The reason is obvious since the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident and subsequent meltdown.

This could be very important as LNR develops over the next few years and the peace process moves forward. Over the last 10 years, Ukraine wanted to develop its standard of medical care to the point that Kiev could become a medical tourism hot spot.

Shown in the last article, the level of Ukraine’s medical care has instead dropped to 3rd world nation status. Ukraine does not provide adequate medical or hospital care for its own population. This has been developing since 2014. Under Ulana Suprun, Ukraine hasn’t purchased enough medications for heart disease or cancer treatment.

In contrast, Lugansk Republic Hospital provides the level of hospital care you would expect at a western hospital. Even with the ongoing war and reliance on humanitarian medicine and medical equipment from Russia, the skill and commitment of hospital staff remain constant.

One section of this hospital that I am familiar with is the Thoracic Surgical wing headed by Dr. Vladimir Voluyski. This is a teaching hospital and the high standard of care really reflects that.

One of the patients receiving treatment there in June 2017 came  from the other side of the front line. He was injured in a car crash. The car rolled and he was caught underneath the vehicle.  He suffered from trauma to his chest when he was crushed under the car. Pasha went to the local Ukrainian hospital for two weeks. The doctors there wouldn’t treat his injuries and gave him aspirin instead. The hospital was outside the war zone, so consider the treatment normal for 2017 Ukrainian medical care. When he didn’t get better, Pasha’s family carried him  across the contact line for treatment in Lugansk. Pasha arrived with his lungs filled with fluid. They operated on him and within a few days, he was able to get around on his own. Like many others that crossed the front line to get medical treatment, if he stayed in Ukraine he would have died.

I spent a month there May-June 2017 and I was nothing short of impressed by the care given to all the patients. My own situation was complicated. Before leaving the US my condition had been misdiagnosed on 3 different occasions. At that point the whole thing would have been simple to fix.

As it was, I was too busy writing about the war in Ukraine  to go to the hospital. I can’t think of a more ridiculous reason to let your health go than being busy, but there I was.

I checked into the hospital in Rovenki which is a small city nearby. The surgeon started drainage on my lung and told me it was either surgery within the week or get your affairs in order.

I was sent to the Thoracic unit in Lugansk. The surgeon, Dr. Nikolai Vasilyov scheduled surgery right away. All in all I was under their care for a month and the difference has been dramatic. It’s not often I write about specific people in LNR because there are so many people trying to help others, you can’t mention them all.

During the early spring of 2014, the windows rattled  and house foundations shook all over the town I live in. The Ukrainian war rolled in. People ran to their yards and homes for cover. No one knew what was happening or what to expect.  We could all hear the shells exploding and watched the smoke billow.

After a week or less of this, people would stop where they were and listen when the shelling and rockets started. Instead of hiding they stood for a moment figuring out what munitions were being used and how close it was to us. Then they went about their business.

The same thing happened with automatic rifle fire. Within a week or so, even when automatics were firing close by at night, curiosity became much more prevalent  than fear.

After a very short time, the rocket and shell explosions and AK’s firing became the background noise people in safe areas like the west would associate with nuisance traffic sounds. Most people started to normalize the sights and sounds of war. In late 2014, the war moved  far away from our area.

One of the most striking things about war is people’s ability to adapt to the most horrific conditions. They develop an extreme coping mechanism to live in this kind of situation. It allows them to normalize the horror and get on with work, school, chores, socializing, and family life.

When people are thrown into immediate horrific circumstances, many stay because everything they worked for or live for has been thrown to the wind. It isn’t about the possessions. Some have lost family, friends, and even children. Leaving signifies that their lives and their loved ones have no longer have value.

The heroes mentioned above and many like them make it possible for normal people in extraordinary circumstances to still feel human, to still matter, and have hope for a future. They make the difference between living like a human being in a war-torn area or living a marginalized existence in a peaceful area where it’s clear you have little value.