Trip to Ukraine. Building a Future in Wartime

Oksana Falenchuk, Razom Board Member, Treasurer and Hospitals Team leader, has recently returned from Ukraine. These are her field notes that both inform and inspire. And as Oksana believes: “It is a very special time to visit Ukraine. If you have any desire to, you should”.

~ by Oksana Falenchuk:

Visiting Ukraine during the war won’t be easy to forget, but fearing that memories fade I decided to put some of the thoughts in writing. I have not witnessed the actual war – the cities of Lviv and Ivano Frankivsk are away from the frontlines and, aside from an occasional air siren and 11pm curfew, everyday life feels completely normal. The fact that electricity is on, showers have hot water, coffee shops and restaurants are buzzing and store shelves are full, is a reflection of Ukraine’s resiliency. Faced with an existential choice, people decided to preserve their everyday lives – celebrate holidays, shop, party, go to concerts, and travel. Just like the Americans did after 9/11. It is a very special time to visit Ukraine. If you have any desire to, you should. 

I am grateful to the people who gave me their time, met for coffee or dinner, shared a walk or a car ride. Too many meetings and unexpected run-ins to mention everyone.  

Our Razom for Ukraine team in Lviv is incredible – they built a complex logistical operation within a short few months, they work hard, always with a smile. The coffee at the office is the best, and there was always something sweet and yummy to go with it. 

Our medical aid partners Zdorovi Agency and Patients of Ukraine are effectively cooperating on distributing critical medical supplies, medications and equipment to Ukrainian hospitals, but are also planning for the future, focusing on projects that will bring modern diagnostic equipment and designing programs for physical and mental rehabilitation of the victims of war. 

I was fortunate to visit the opening of Ukrainian Leadership Academy (UAL). Being among the brightest 16-year-olds gives you incredible energy and hope. The war has disrupted UAL’s life in a major way – last year, they operated in several locations across Ukraine, including Mariupol, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Poltava, Kyiv. Now everyone is consolidated in Lviv. Close to 100 of UAL’s alumni and staff are fighting on the frontlines, and four of their boys lost their lives. The war takes our best. 

Building Ukraine Together (BUR) has always been a personal favorite grassroots organization. BUR is renovating housing for the displaced people so they can integrate into their new communities. They have grown and institutionalized, but the camps are still run with minimal comforts as my son Mark can attest. That’s part of the charm! 

Ukraine’s cultural life is vibrant. Marjana Savka, over coffee at her bookshop, noted that the sales of modern Ukrainian literature have gone up since the war, as well as requests for translations from overseas. Pavlo Gudimov’s YaGallery’s current exhibit bears this slogan at the entrance: “Glory to Ukraine and glory to the Armed Forces, which give us the opportunity to engage in culture: to build the future in wartime!”  

Ukrainian businesses have mobilized for the war but continue to innovate, among them Fest , PrompryladUrban Space. One of the ways we can support Ukraine is to buy Ukrainian and keep the economy going. I didn’t do much shopping on the trip but got some sustainable fashion at Framiore, floral ceramics at EtnostylFaino and stocked up on everyone’s favorite beverage П’яна Вишня.

Finally, the main purpose of the trip – the first medical mission to Ukraine, a joint project of  the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS)Razom for Ukraine and INgenius. 14 American surgeons and nurses for a week operated on patients with severe injuries of face and neck at the Ivano Frankivsk Oblast hospital alongside the Ukrainian colleagues led by an incredible Dr Komashko. Close to 40 procedures, some lasted as long as 10 hours. The group brought $325K in medical supplies (including custom designed implants) and donated ~$300K in the value of surgeries. Razom z Toboyu therapists provided counseling and psychological support .  A chance of new life for 31 patients. People from Bucha, Izyum, Kherson, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy. People with wounds and burns from shelling, mine explosions, direct gunshots, artillery fire. None of those things had to happen to them. The real scars of war are only beginning to show. And healing them will take generations. 

Razom has been at the forefront of humanitarian response in Ukraine since day one of the full scale invasion. As the war continues to rip our country, we are focusing our efforts on winter preparedness, supporting the local healthcare institutions and grassroots NGO, and advocating for Ukraine on the global stage. Please support our efforts.  

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