Children play in a park in Chernivtsi Children play in a park in Chernivtsi 

Ukrainian hospitals seek to offer psychological rehabilitation to children

Dr. Sergei Chernishuk, the Deputy Director of Ohmatdyt, Ukraine’s largest pediatric hospital, highlights the importance of providing physical and psychological care for children affected by the ongoing war.

By Andrea Rego

Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine has tremendously affected the lives of civilians, especially children who need physical and, most importantly, psychological rehabilitation.

In an interview with Vatican News’ Giovanni Tonello, Dr. Sergei Chernishuk, Deputy Director of Ohmatdyt, Ukraine’s largest pediatric hospital situated in the capital, Kyiv, described the effects of war on children.

Apart from his duty as Deputy Director, Dr. Chernishuk is responsible for the surgical site and Intensive Care Department of the hospital. He is also in charge of the physiology and radiology departments that care for patients suffering from cancer and renal failure.

Dr. Sergei Chernishuk, Deputy Director of Ohmatdyt
Dr. Sergei Chernishuk, Deputy Director of Ohmatdyt

Patient statistics at Ohmatdyt

“The number of patients across children’s hospitals in Ukraine has decreased dramatically. Women and children have left the country to seek shelter and refuge in other nations, which is why there is a decrease in patients,” Dr. Chernishuk explained.

This decrease of patients in hospitals across Ukraine has not been recorded at Ohmatdyt, as it receives patients from all over the country.

Dr. Chernishuk mentions, “There has been a 40 to 50 percent increase in surgeries performed compared to the year 2021. This situation at Ohmatdyt is not typical in the whole of Ukraine.”

Challenges faced by hospitals

The hospital has to ensure that patients who do not require emergency care are properly discharged after successful completion of their treatment.

At the start of the war in February 2022, “around 300 to 400 patients were discharged over the span of one week,” said Dr. Chernishuk. “We moved them out not only from the hospital but also outside the territory of Kyiv which was surrounded by Russian forces. It was our responsibility to help them get out of this dangerous place.”

Another problem the hospital faces is that the number of patients undergoing treatment at Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and for oncological diseases is over a hundred. These patients cannot be discharged from the hospital but are transferred to clinics instead.

“The first stage includes transferring the patients to a clinic in the western part of Ukraine,” Dr. Chernishuk said. “After that, they are transferred to clinics in Europe that admit patients with critical health conditions, especially cancer patients who cannot discontinue treatment.”

“The biggest problem was effectively organization of the evacuation of patients from intensive care, not only from one region to other, but to medical institutions in Europe. It is a complicated process as hospitals cannot manage sudden influx of many patients at any given time,” Dr. Chernishuk noted.

“The collaboration between our hospital, the Ministry of Health and charity organizations such as Tabletochki Charity Foundation who care for oncology patients in Ukraine, was essential to successfully evacuate the patients from Kyiv and other Ukrainian clinics,” he said.

Ohmatdyt is Ukraine's largest pediatric hospital
Ohmatdyt is Ukraine's largest pediatric hospital

Ohmatdyt adapts to change

In February and March of 2022, Ohmatdyt started treating adult patients because many clinics were closed or only treated military patients. At the time, Kyiv was an active warzone and hence receiving high quality treatment was difficult.

“Families that were escaping Bucha or Irpin suffered injuries due to Russian aggression. The elderly, parents and children were injured by bombings or bullets. We did not want to separate family members and hence we treated them all at our hospital,” Dr. Chernishuk recalled.

“I realized we weren’t only treating the physical wounds but psychological wounds as well, so it was utterly important to keep the family together. We helped everyone,” he said.

Children who experience war

Children have become innocent victims of war. Even though they do not live in the warzones, they are aware of it through the stories their parents or grandparents share or by the sound of the air raid sirens.

Ohmatdyt provides psychological rehabilitation to children to help them not only survive, but strive to live in their homeland. Even before the war they were prepared to provide children with psychological support.

“Many lost their parents and relatives right before their eyes and this is terrible,” lamented Dr. Chernishuk. “Some children lost their arms or legs; they endured pain and the psychological shock along with it.”

“That is why, we provide surgical treatment and psychological treatment simultaneously,” he noted. Counsellors provide mental support with the help of partners in and outside Ukraine.

“We organize programs by inviting groups from other countries, Austria, Italy, and the Baltic countries of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, for a span of two to three weeks for the psychological rehabilitation of children who are the victims of war,” the doctor said.

The future of the nation

“Children are the future of any nation,” noted Dr. Chernishuk. “For us, it is very important to save children now, not only physically but to save them mentally for the sake of Ukraine.”

With the aim to establish areas to treat children, the Ohmatdyt hospital hopes to prepare them to stay in Ukraine now and in the future when the war is over.

Importance of volunteers

Hospitals across Ukraine have sought the help of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), volunteers and the support of people who donate medicines and resources that enable hospital therapy.

When it comes to the finances required by clinics and hospitals, including government funded hospitals, “it is duly noted that the government suffers the economic crisis caused by the war.”

The Ukrainian government utilizes most funds “for the defence, army and weapons to support the troops that defend our country.”

Dr. Chernishuk expressed his concern, saying, “That is why we need support from both government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from abroad to protect Ukrainian medicine and science.”

A parent and child on their way to Ohmatdyt
A parent and child on their way to Ohmatdyt

Improving the way of life

As the deputy director of Ukraine’s biggest pediatric hospital, Dr. Chernishuk has met children who have lost their parents, father or mother or both. “Rehabilitation of these children requires elaborate steps to be taken as each case is different and dependant on the child,” he said.

In some cases, the “children are taken care of their grandfather or grandmother, if they are still alive and, in some instances, their siblings or relatives.”

In cases where the orphaned children have no relatives, the government takes care of them until they find “adoptive parents”. In certain regions, orphanages have undergone transformation with the new goal of finding parents for each child.

Dr. Chernishuk pointed to the goal of ensuring the mental wellbeing of children living in Ukraine during the war .

It is counterproductive, he said, for children to forget the trauma they have witnessed. Rather, he noted, “we much teach children how to react to this information” and experiences of trauma.

According to Dr. Chernishuk “constructing the right relation for trauma will be most helpful for the children to overcome and probably forget the painful experience in the future.”

He encouraged the people of Ukraine to “live this situation in the right way, and that is why psychological support is so important.”

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18 August 2023, 15:30