”The medicine was carried by a priest — the only one who the Russians let pass.” There are almost no medicines in the occupied territories. Hereʼs how they are brought there — a monologue by volunteer Oksana Musiienko

Kateryna Varapay
Yuliana Skibitska
”The medicine was carried by a priest — the only one who the Russians let pass.” There are almost no medicines in the occupied territories. Hereʼs how they are brought there — a monologue by volunteer Oksana Musiienko

Volunteer paramedics carry boxes of food and medicine for hospitals of Dnipropetrovsk region in Zaporizhia, April 1, 2022

Getty Images / «Babel'»

Approximately 20% of Ukraineʼs territory is now occupied by the Russian troops. Because of this, hundreds of thousands of people have no access to even the basic things: food, drinking water, essential medicines. The Ministry of Health, together with volunteers and NGOs, is trying to deliver medicine to the temporarily occupied territories. The process resembles a thriller and involves bicycles, boats, horses, priests, encrypted messages, passwords. Drivers come under fire, but continue the route, people from all over the world join the fundraiser. Babel asked Oksana Musiienko, a volunteer and coordinator of the delivery of humanitarian aid and medicines, to tell us how exactly medicines are delivered to people on the occupied territories and what difficulties volunteers face every day.

Prior to the full-scale invasion, part of my work was connected with Patients of Ukraine charitable foundation. We protect the interests of patients, accelerate medical procurement, as well as establish mutual understanding between patient NGOs, government agencies, international procurement organizations and other actors in the field. The other part is the formation and development of the medical community. Together with the team of the social project "Your family doctor" and "100% of life" charitable organization, we unite progressive doctors and primary care physicians.

Today, my only task is to help doctors save people. To find and deliver the necessary drugs and medical products: insulins, L-thyroxine, metformin, hormonal drugs, hemostatics, analgesics, antipyretics, etc. Now I am preparing a package of medicines for the Kherson Psychiatric Center. People with mental and nervous disorders need constant treatment, and the medication there is over.

Facebook / Oksana Musienko

In a peaceful life, we had an unspoken taboo — patient communities did not work with "big pharma", pharmacological companies. Because there have always been associations a bit with corruption, a bit with aggressive business interests. But the war corrected everything. Now I work with the offices of the largest international pharmaceutical companies. We actually collect medicines for Ukrainians from all over the world. I see how all these businesses want to help, and itʼs important — we work as humanitarian aid, itʼs not for money.

The war launched some mechanisms, which I hope we will transfer to a peaceful life. At first, everyone understood that something had to be done, everyone started rowing in their place. In March, we behaved like blind kittens. But when the Ministry of Health launched a centralized collection of medical inquiries, we realized that we should not work independently, but together. Now we have a weekly coordination meeting, there is a chat with the Ministry of Health and key NGOs dealing with the humanitarian help, medicine, and medical supplies.

We see the requests of the Ministry of Health, and, of course, we are flooded with needs "from the street", in all messengers. Thanks to Meddata, unified state system for collecting needs, we can verify applications. We look at what is included in the database, communicate with medical institutions, update information about real needs. Because everything changes quickly: if there was no drug yesterday, it could have been brought this morning. And then, in fact, these requests are covered.

For example, foreign donor partners who want to join but do not know how come to us. They just say: "We want to help Chernihiv Oblast." We tell them: "Okay, such hospitals in the region need this and that." They reply: "Well, we have €20-50 thousand, prepare a list of priority drugs that are now needed for a particular institution." We select from the base of the Ministry of Health the needs of one or three or four hospitals of Chernihiv Oblast, form documentation — please, look, this is what we desperately need. Thus, the funds of a foreign partner are used objectively, for a specific purpose, and this suits everyone.

Facebook / Oksana Musienko

On the other hand, we see priority things that are extremely necessary for more than one hospital — the Ministry of Health has lists "Priority 1" and "Priority 2". We offer these areas to large investors, we say: "If you want, you can invest in this, and we will further distribute [the medicine] to institutions."

People find our contacts through word of mouth. This is how we delivered medicine on March 4 and 5 to the temporarily captured Nova Kakhovka. My colleague was approached by people who had been sitting there for seven days during the occupation. They did not have access to basic things, especially insulin. I turned to our colleagues — family doctors in Kryvyi Rih, they collected first aid drugs, insulin for about a week of usage. And then we were looking for a driver who would agree to go to the territory surrounded by the enemy. They were not allowed into Nova Kakhovka itself, only into Beryslav.

We communicated with a person from Nova Kakhovka by passwords and only in the Signal messenger. With the help of encrypted messages, we were explained how to get there. I picked up the contacts of all my acquaintances in Dnipro Oblast and got the driverʼs number. I call him and say, "Do you understand that this is very dangerous?" And he immediately answered, "Iʼm ready."

We gave him permission by the military administration to release him from the city, because these were the first days of the war, everyone was afraid of everything — people were allowed to leave the settlements and return only with special documents. Our driver left, and I was in touch with him all the way. Near Beryslav the car was fired upon — thank God, the driver was not hit. We almost became relatives after this trip.

A person from Nova Kakhovka explained with encrypted messages in the messenger that the medicine had to be unloaded in a certain yard in Beryslav. Then, for a week or more, the priest carried the medicine in small bags to the occupied city, perhaps the only person the orcs allowed into Nova Kakhovka.

Facebook / Oksana Musienko

Our driver used to work as a truck driver, but two years ago he was diagnosed with cancer, so he was forced to leave that career. Thatʼs why he is so fearless — his cancer is of the fourth stage. He took the medication, and the next day went on a fourth course of chemotherapy. He told me: "Oksana, as soon as Iʼll recover from this course — and Iʼm ready to go again."

For those who want to help with the humanitarian aid: it isnʼt necessary to hand over childrenʼs clothes — they have already been brought so much that they get burned in the gardens. It is also not necessary to just hand over old things, because there are a lot of them too, and during the war few people change clothes.

What is really needed are long-term storage products, canned fish and meat. And medications, but not expired one. Because sometimes there is such, and we live in conditions that we no longer shy this away, but, in my opinion, itʼs not ok. Because itʼs about health. And medicines are needed even elementary: analgesics, hemostatics, for pressure, antiseptics, sedatives. The latter ones people are now asking for a lot. Also diapers for adults and children are in demand.

If we receive financial assistance, we have access to verified requests and know where to urgently send the purchased drugs.

To support the volunteer direction of the organization Patients of Ukraine, write [email protected]

To join the charitable activities of the NGO 100% of life: [email protected] or follow the link.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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