As Europe and the U.S. grapple with the monumental task of helping Ukraine to fend off its economic collapse, NGOs and charities are working on a smaller scale to help the people of Kiev return to a normal life in the aftermath of weeks of political crisis and violent street protests. The leading Czech charity People in Need was among the first to respond to the crisis, sending doctors and medical staff to the embattled Maidan square where demonstrators came under fire from police units.
Now the team is finishing up its work there and several dozen seriously injured patients are being flown to Prague for treatment. I spoke to Tomas Urban from People in Need about how fast the charity was able to respond to the crisis and how it has been helping.
“Within 20 hours of the escalation of violence on Maidan we sent three doctors to Kiev –with medical staff the team now has five members –and immediately on Friday they started to operate near Michailovsky Church, near Maidan Square and now they are there at the disposal of people who still come with lighter injuries.”
What kind of conditions are they working in now? Where are they sleeping? Where are they giving first aid?
“They operate in an old medical centre which they had to clean and prepare for patients before they could start work and they sleep and work in that same building.”
Did they have enough medical equipment and facilities to operate in these conditions?
“Yes, they brought some medicines and equipment with them and whatever else they needed was available in the shops in Kiev. So there has been no shortage of medicines, at least not up to now.”
What kind of injuries have they been treating?
“Mainly it has been burns, eye injuries and dressing wounds.”
I understand that 20 to 30 patients are being flown to Prague for treatment. These would be patients with serious injuries. How are they being selected?
“We select them with the help of medical staff who operate near Maidan square in temporary medical centres. They have databases with patients and they help us to identify cases who would benefit from treatment in the Czech Republic because medical care in Ukraine is not in a good situation right now. So we are in a better position to treat things like head injuries and more serious wounds.”
Does that mean that their own medical facilities are not working as they should be since people are still coming to the makeshift aid centres for medical attention?
“They operate, but there are reported to be more than 500 injured – according to some sources up to 1,000 injured – so their capacity is stretched to the limit and other countries like the Czech Republic or Latvia which is also helping, can provide patients with better care in some special cases.”
How long will our doctors be there for?
“We will see. We are planning for them to be there for more than a week and after that we will see. People are still coming to us, but the situation is calming down and once there is no more need for us we will end the operation.”
Are you getting sufficient assistance from the government?
“Yes, we have been cooperating with the Czech government and the government is providing two planes for the transfer of patients on Thursday. So yes, we are working with them.”
What kind of other aid is People in Need providing in Ukraine now – apart from this medical aid?
“Well, first, there is the emergency aid provided in the field and selecting patients for further care in the Czech Republic. We also cooperate with Ukrainian, or specifically Crimean, NGOs – who monitor the human rights situation and the situation in the media, possible censorship, and work with civil activists there. In the longer-term perspective we will also help the families of people who were shot in the clashes or those who lost their jobs because of their injuries or those who are in a complicated financial situation.”
How are you helping those who have lost family members for example – with psychological aid or financial help?
“Yes, we have already donated money to two people who were injured and did not have the money needed for medical treatment. This longer-term help will really take off properly next month or after we terminate the emergency medical aid in the field. It will be the next step for us.”
Did you have enough volunteers in Kiev?
“Yes, the Ukrainians are very helpful. When we needed to clean out the old medical centre near Maidan Square there were over a hundred volunteers who came to help us with that.”