From fleeing war to championing children's access to essential health services
Before the war, Viktoria lived with her two children and husband in Kyiv, where she had been working as an accountant in an international firm before deciding to pursue a career in healthcare. "Working as an accountant was not my mission, I realised I wanted to help people and went to study pharmacy," Viktoria says. Viktoria did not have time to finish her studies. In February 2022, when the war in Ukraine escalated, she had to flee with her children. "I had no idea that something like this could happen. I told myself that it would be for a few days. When we were running from the house to the car, we saw bombs falling and my son thought they were fireworks. I had to tell him no, and that we had to run. We left Ukraine on the last evacuation train." Viktoria and her children stopped for one night in Pribram municipality in the Central Bohemia region of the Czech Republic, and never left. "Volunteers directed us to a family that helped us with accommodation. When the war started, they offered to provide a house they had planned to renovate to a mother and children from Ukraine. They helped us a lot. We are great friends. They see us as part of the family." Viktoria learned Czech through online courses and joined volunteers working in Příbram. She eventually found a job in a healthcare facility that allowed her to help people including children in the way she had wished back in Ukraine. Viktoria joined the newly opened outpatient centre as an assistant to provide health care to refugee children from Ukraine and others who were looking for care from a paediatrician. The centre was, created in cooperation with the Pribram Regional Hospital, the Ministry of Health and UNICEF. "I enjoy that I get to help doctors and nurses in the centre, arrange examinations for children, help find specialists and organize appointments. I take care of translations, interpretation, and if necessary, help other departments in the entire hospital. Not all parents speak Czech since they want to return to Ukraine, so we help them communicate and sometimes go to the appointments with them," Viktoria says. Opened in March 2023, the paediatric outpatient centre now provides primary health care and immunization services to more than 750 children from Ukraine and the Czech Republic, including children with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. The establishment and continued operation of the paediatric outpatient centre was made possible through the support from the Government of Norway. In line with its long-standing commitment to protecting displaced populations, the Government of Norway has played an important role in supporting refugee children in the Czech Republic. In addition to the Pribram outpatient centre for children, the Norwegian Government, in partnership with the UNICEF and Ministry of Health, has supported the establishment of similar outpatient centres in Stodka and at the Olomouc hospital. This collaboration is part of wider partnership between the Ministry of Health and UNICEF that led to an establishment of 10 primary healthcare centres in regional hospitals and expanded the capacity of 27 general practitioner’s clinics in regions that host larger numbers of refuges. The programme has benefited over 45,000 refugees and others in need. The Ministry of Health continues to lead the efforts to ensure that every refugee child and family have access to quality health care services. "We have various families here, most of them from Ukraine, but we have more than 10 Czech, several Roma, Vietnamese and Slovak families. Most Ukrainian families arrived in the Czech Republic in a hurry and needed to find a paediatrician quickly. We have children and families coming from nearby towns and villages, not just Pribram," says Viktoria. Pribram hospital Families and children receiving primary healthcare services at Pribram regional hospital outpatient centre Working at the hospital helps Victoria support her children and support their return to a normal childhood. "I don't know what will happen in the future, but because of my children, I can't go back. I have a son who is 11 years old, I don't know when the war will end and all I think about is his safety.” Viktoria's son Ivan is in high school, and her younger daughter Anna is in fourth grade. They first went to a school for foreigners, learned Czech, and now are now in regular classes, enjoy new friendships with Czech friends. "Anička speaks Czech so well that you can hardly tell she is not a native speaker. Ivan speaks nicely too, but Czech is not easy. He has a lot of grammar to learn at his high school. I also have mostly Czech friends, I meet Ukrainian mothers in the hospital, but when we go for coffee, visits, or birthday parties, it is with Czech families. Sometimes we go to the theatre to see children's shows together, there are lots of events for children in Pribram." Working as a pharmacist remains Victoria's dream and she is looking for a way to get back on this path. "I only finished school online in the Czech Republic and have no experience. I would like to do an internship, maybe in Pribram hospital´s pharmacy. I could just pass my Czech language exams to work as an accountant, but I want to work in a pharmacy to help people. When deciding between numbers and helping someone, it's always the latter. If it weren't for the war, I would already be doing that. I already had a job waiting for me in a pharmacy in Ukraine, they were just waiting for me to finish my exams.” Despite missing home, Viktoria cannot imagine returning with her children before the war is over. "Before the war, I was always very optimistic. I always thought of the good things, but not anymore. You feel like you have your whole life ahead of you, lots of plans, and suddenly it's all gone. I left Ukraine mainly because of my children, I can't imagine staying with them somewhere where there is a war, for them, I must manage here. Life is the most important thing, when you see war, nothing else but life seems important."
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