In Ukraine, specialists unite to help families far from home
Teams of doctors, social workers, lawyers and psychologists are coming together to help the millions forced to leave their homes behind
For over two months, psychologist Olga Stegura has been a familiar face at Uzhgorod railway station. But she is not waiting for a train. She is here to help the hundreds of Ukrainians who arrive every day after fleeing the attacks at home.
"My colleagues and I started as soon as the war began,” she says. “We are a group of specialists: a social worker, a lawyer, a physician and a psychologist. Our duty is to give support. I dedicate my whole life to people.”
Olga is part of a rapid response team put together by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), together with the Ukrainian Public Health Foundation. 50 of these teams work to help displaced Ukrainians at reception points across the country, offering specialist expertise and advice to the thousands who need it.
Like Olga, lawyer Oleksandra Semen is determined to help those who have arrived in the city of Uzhgorod in western Ukraine.
She works as part of a team located at a refugee reception center.
“Why am I here? Because I have to help,” says Oleksandra. “All of us are Ukraine, we're united, that's why a contribution from everyone is crucial.”
“I see a lot of pain in people's eyes. The most difficult thing I’ve experienced was on the border with Slovakia. It was cold, the queue was moving slowly and people began to panic. It was difficult to calm this panic and fear. I consulted an 85-year-old woman who had barely escaped the war. It hurts.”
Doctor Andriy Denyuk is another professional who has joined rapid response teams in Uzhgorod, determined to help the millions on the move.
“I work as a children’s surgeon but I've joined the UNICEF team to help,” he says. “The most difficult thing is probably a train coming from a hot spot. There are a lot of people, confused, desperate and often in need of immediate medical attention.”
Some of the displaced in Uzhgorod find shelter at a local school, where the rapid response team helps with children’s needs.
Anna, who fled Kharkiv with her two children, is grateful for the care she has received.
"We're still a little scared of loud sounds, but things are getting better,” she says. “Uzhhorod is a good and beautiful city with responsive people.”
As of April 16, 200 children have died as a result of the war in Ukraine, with thousands injured and tens of thousands displaced. Many families urgently need access to health care, education and protection.
The conflict affects all dimensions of life, impeding access to basic services, disrupting economic activities and livelihoods, and destroying critical public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, and water and sanitation facilities. It is a crisis for children, risking their lives and well-being on a daily basis.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), together with partners, remains on the ground in Ukraine to ensure the provision of humanitarian aid to war-affected families and children. In March 2022, UNICEF, in cooperation with the Ukrainian Public Health Foundation, launched 50 mobile rapid response teams in 11 regions to ensure outreach to the most vulnerable, providing psychosocial, legal and medical support to children and parents or caregivers affected by the war.
The project covers Lviv, Zakarpattia, Ternopil, Chernivtsi, Rivne, Ivano-Frankivsk, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsia, Volyn, Khmelnytsky and Dnipro regions.