February 24 marks a grim anniversary — it’s the day Russia invaded Ukraine, beginning a war after years of escalating violence. Throughout the duration of the war in Ukraine, Medical Teams has focused our effort on restoring the physical and mental health of people affected by the conflict. Every day, our courageous staff work to improve access to health care, mental health support, and community engagement for people across Ukraine.

Together, with the support of our partners and our incredibly compassionate community, we’ve been able to deliver life-saving health care and mental health support to families in Ukraine and Moldova. Our mobile medical teams conducted 15, 200 medical consultations in the past year alone. We shipped 97 tons of critical medical supplies and equipment, and supported pharmacies as they distribute free medicine.

We’ve also been working hard to provide mental health and psychosocial support to communities. Young and old alike have benefited from one-on-one consultations. Many more take part in group activities, geared toward helping people heal from the distress they may feel from their experiences as the war has gone on. We reached more than 11,000 people with this kind of support in 2023.

One thing we’re struck by when we hold sessions is the resiliency and strength of the people we serve. They haven’t given up on their hope for home and their dreams for the future. Today, we’re sharing stories of just a few of the people we’ve served in the last 2 years in Ukraine. Some stories were brought to us by our friend Stephanie Glinski.

One thing that’s true about each of these photos? Whether young or old, the people we serve have a strength of spirit that’s an inspiration to us all!

Lyubov Myroshnychenko, Age 73

Lyubov, whose name means ‘love’ in English, smiles when she talks about her work as a costume designer. She and her husband shared a peaceful life in Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. But when the war started, everything changed.

“Volunteers evacuated me,” she explains. “And I got into this shelter for elderly displaced people.”

Lyubov’s husband has likely died. But she’s still holding out hope that they’ll meet again as she didn’t see him after his death. Before volunteers were able to help Lyubov evacuate to a safer region, away from the front lines of the war in Ukraine, she was alone in her house.

Lyubov’s experience, sadly, isn’t uncommon. Adults over the age of 60 made up nearly 25% of Ukraine’s population before the war. Accordingly, it’s one of the ‘oldest’ countries in the world. Conflict is hard on everyone, but especially the elderly.

Lyubov describes her loneliness, her face drawn in pain. After a few months at the shelter, psychologists from Medical Teams began visiting the residents. This marked a turning point for Lyubov.

“I began to feel better,” she says. “I was very happy, because I really like to talk about my past, peaceful life. They always listen carefully to my stories.”

Lyubov went on to say,

“I’m very grateful to everyone who helps me. I love people very much, and I’m very glad that they also respond to me with kindness.”

Today, Lyubov looks forward to the activities the psychologists plan. Her mental health has improved — she selects her outfits carefully when the come! Together, they’ve made easter eggs, watched movies, and shared stories. Lyubov is slowly processing her grief.

She says, “Now I have plans for life after our victory.”

Maxim, Age 5

Julia holds her children, Tanja and Maxim, at the shelter in Moldova. Photo by Stephanie Glinski.

Before the war in Ukraine began, Maxim was like many little boys — he looked up to his dad, played with his younger sister, and loved attending school every day. But once the conflict began, he began to struggle with stress and depression.

Maxim’s mother, Julia, says,

“I never discussed the news in front of my children and made sure they didn’t watch TV. I was shocked to see how my 5-year-old had matured in a matter of days, how he’d almost lost his childhood.”

Julia and her husband made a heartbreaking decision: she would leave with Maxim and their daughter for the safety of Moldova. Her husband stayed behind to fight, and now she prays for his safety every day. But saying goodbye to his father was hard for Maxim.

“[He’s] at work,” Maxim murmurs. “He can’t be with us right now.”

The sadness in Maxim’s voice is devastating. But that’s why Medical Teams psychologists are in Ukraine, helping children like Maxim process their grief. UNICEF reports that among the nearly 6 million people displaced by the war in Ukraine, 33% are children. Like Maxim, every child’s mental well-being will be impacted by the conflict in some way.

“I’m glad we’re receiving help here,” Julia says. “For my children, the psychological support and kindergarten lessons are everything.”

Anastasia, Age 17

Anastasia had to leave when the war in Ukraine broke out
Anastasia is in her last year of high school, trying to adjust to her new reality. Photo by Stefanie Glinski.

Anastasia never imagined her last year of high school would end as it has. Because of the war in Ukraine, she’s sheltering with her grandparents in a small university dorm room. Her classes are all online, and she wakes early in the morning to take them.

Despite the circumstances, she’s been slowly adjusting to her new reality. Painting the room she shares with her grandparents bright pink has helped. And so has regular meetings with her psychologist, Natalia.

Anastasia says,

“I like the sessions I attend. We talk about the past months, about what has happened and how it has made us feel. It has helped me regain some strength. I feel more stable.”

Still, Anastasia still feels a keen sense of loss. She regrets not grabbing an album of old family photos before leaving home in a rush on a cold March morning. Now, the home she grew up in is rubble.

At first, she and her grandparents moved into their own basement. Then, as bombing grew more intense, they moved into a deeper bomb shelter nearby.

“We heard explosions daily and we were afraid,” Anastasia recalls quietly. “We left before they hit our house, too.”

They managed to leave, but it wasn’t easy. Anastasia didn’t have a chance to pack her belongings before they evacuated. A neighbor who stayed sent them photos of their house later. It’s mostly destroyed, though a little sliver of green wallpaper from Anastasia’s old bedroom still clings to one remaining wall.

Like millions of other Ukrainians, Anastasia and her family are being forced to reckon with an uncertain future. With counseling and the support of one another, they’re finding their way forward.

Eva, Age 4

Eva, 4, has benefited immensely from bi-weekly sessions with Medical Teams. Photo by Stephanie Glinski.

Eva is always the first to arrive at the bi-weekly art therapy and kindergarten sessions Medical Teams holds at the shelter her family is staying in. With her curly hair tied up in a bow, her smile is contagious. But still, her mother, Anna, worries for her.

“When the Russians started bombing the bridges, we knew that we’d be at risk of being cut off,” she explains. “We had a comfortable house with a garden full of fruit trees. Eva went to kindergarten and loved it. We left everything behind — all our belongings, all our dreams.”

When they left their home in the Odesa oblast, Anna says that both her children “shut off” for a while. Leaving behind everything they knew, in the middle of a violent conflict, took its toll on their family. Happily, Medical Teams had sessions established in the shelter they eventually landed in when they made it to Moldova.

Anna describes Eva’s reaction to the sessions, saying,

“Whenever the downstairs door opens and she hears Medical Teams walk in, she’s already running and jumping. It’s her absolute highlight.”

The kindergarten and art therapy sessions provide a place for Eva, and other kids like her, to play and process their experiences of living in Ukraine during the war. It’s helped her open up and make new friends. Her parents, too, visit a psychologist to help them process their own feelings. They also learn strategies for helping their children adjust.

Together, they’re beginning to see hope on the horizon.

Oleg Shcherbakov, Age 61

Oleg has found himself hopeful about the future again after visiting with psychologists. Photo by Serhii Andrushchak.

Oleg and his wife, Valentine, have a clear bond. They speak quietly to each other, smiling and holding hands. Still, one of our psychologists noted, there are some kinds of pain that are hard to share with loved ones. Oleg was carrying a heavy burden of grief and loss.

“First, I lost my son,” he says softly. “Then I became disabled, then I lost my home, I lost my best friends.”

Oleg was devasted by his son’s death. He died on the front lines at just 29 years old. Then, he suffered a stroke and lost his leg. Volunteers evacuated Oleg and his wife to Dnipro, where they live now in a shelter for displaced people.

Oleg found himself struggling to talk about what he’d experienced. Then, Medical Teams came to the shelter and offered mental health support.

Oleg says,

“I felt like a person who couldn’t find a way out. That I couldn’t tell anyone my grief. While to talking to psychologists, I began to feel better.”

Having professional help processing his experiences was a turning point for Oleg. He describes how the team of psychologists plans activities for them, then takes the time to speak to him one-on-one. It’s an important step in the process of restoring someone’s hope and mental well-being.

Today, Oleg is saving money for a prosthetic leg and hoping to soon walk on his own. He’s looking forward to the future.

“I started talking more, started smiling,” he says. “And I started planning for my future life.”

Stories of strength from the war in Ukraine

What unites each of these stories is a strength of spirit that’s hard to imagine. Whether it’s Lyubov, who still hopes she’ll see her husband again soon, or Eva, who’s just excited for kindergarten, their stories tug at the common thread of humanity that binds each of us.

You can help listen to their stories, hold their hands, and help them heal with a donation today. Your gift will help Ukrainians like Lyubov, Oleg, Eva, Maxim, and Anastasia get the health care and hope they need after 2 long years of war.