As a Doctor and a Ukrainian, My Heart Breaks for the Humanitarian Crisis that is Unfolding

By Dr. Kateryna Komarovskiy, a Houston-based Endocrinologist affiliated with Memorial Hermann

Medicine runs in my blood. My great grandfather was a pharmacist, my grandfather was a family doctor and my mother a cardiologist. From when I was a child, I knew that I, too, wanted to become a doctor.

I was 9 years old when the Chernobyl disaster occurred. I have blocked most of that time from my memory, but I do remember that my mother encouraged everyone she knew to administer iodine drops to their families. Three days after the disaster, I boarded a train out of Kyiv and did not return for nine months, but my mother stayed to continue caring for her patients. Many of my friends’ parents died from cancers in the years to come, but only later did I fully grasp why. Now, Ukraine is grappling with yet another crisis—only this time, the number of people affected is exponentially higher.

I left Ukraine in 2002 with the idea that I could find better opportunities for myself and for my future children, and for a while, I did not look back. I kept up with old friends, but I did not stay up to date about everything that was going on in the country, primarily because all my surviving immediate family is now here in the U.S. In 2019, I visited Ukraine with my family, and it struck me how much the country had changed since I left. Kyiv was nice, like any other European capital. Things were much improved, and up until six weeks ago, the people in Ukraine lived very similar lives to those we live here in Houston. People worked and went to church and had their family life. They probably ate slightly less and used public transportation more than we do, but in most aspects, it was very similar.

Then one day in February, they woke up to their country paralyzed.

The magnitude of this crisis is impossible to comprehend at this time. For the millions still in the country, basic goods and services are next to impossible to come by. My friends in the medical field have told me that accessing supplies is increasingly difficult, although they are developing creative ways to deliver insulin and other lifesaving pharmaceuticals to the patients who need them. Hospitals are struggling to maintain operations to care for the sick and wounded. We hear about families trying to bring their injured children in for care, but the surrounding area is under bombardment. They are desperate for painkillers, antibiotics, insulin, oncology medications, and treatment for wounds. The problem is getting these things delivered safely.

What has been most impressive to me, and to my friends who are currently in Ukraine, is how everyone has mobilized to help each other. The power of charity, and the fact that so many people care about the pain of strangers, is undeniably impactful. The people of Ukraine are so thankful for everything coming their way—material support, financial support, and the fact that the world is supporting their cause. I hope that this unity endures long after the invasion is over, because Ukrainians will need ongoing support to rebuild homes, schools and hospitals. They will need to clean up explosives, and we do not yet know the ecological or public health impact that will arise from the bombing of factories and industrial facilities. The humanitarian crisis, and the sheer number of refugees who no longer have homes to return to, is staggering in and of itself.

There have been many times these past weeks where I have felt helpless, unsure of how I can contribute. My friends in Ukraine tell me that donations are beneficial, and I recommend doing your research and contributing to authentic and verified organizations. There are even some here in Houston who are making real and meaningful impacts.

Please remember, however, that the people of Ukraine will need support for years to come, so if you feel uncertain about how to help now, there will be opportunities in the future. My hope is that this will be over as soon as possible and that we can come together as we are now to help restore what has been so tragically lost.

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Ali Vise