Positivity at a time of great tragedy

A Ukrainian GP living and working in Ireland reflects on the tragedy that is unfolding in her country, how it is affecting both her and her family, and how people can help

Mr Niall Hunter, Editor, MedMedia Group, Dublin

April 30, 2022

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  • “It’s heartbreaking to see my country in this state. I’ve been living here for nearly six years and Ireland is now my home, but you always feel a strong attachment to the place you are from.”

    Dr Kateryna Kachurets came to Ireland to train in general practice, graduating from the Midlands GP Training Scheme in 2021. She has been working in Tallaght, Co Dublin since last year. She has loved living and working in Ireland from the very start, and met her husband, Vlad, in Ireland. As with millions of other Ukrainian people, her world has been turned upside down since the cataclysmic Russian invasion on February 24.

    While to her great relief, her mother, who is 60, has now joined her in Ireland and is settling in, Katya and her husband still have family and friends living in Ukraine, with whom they are in daily contact.

    “Reading the news and looking at those terrible scenes on television is shocking. I was in a bit of a daze at first, then started accepting it as the new terrible reality, for however long it lasts. What matters most is that our country survives the conflict and that eventually, we can rebuild everything. 

    “Like all these things, it will come to an end. We are a proud nation and we are fighters. Freedom is a core value for any Ukrainian. We are prepared to die for our independence and our freedom. It’s more important than anything else.

    “Russia underestimated the response of Ukrainians and didn’t expect we would have so much support and back-up from the West. We have had moral, humanitarian and military support from the West and we wouldn’t survive without this.”

    Medical Help Ukraine

    Katya, with other Ukrainian healthcare professionals working in Ireland, has set up the group Medical Help Ukraine aimed at urgently delivering badly needed medical aid to the stricken region.

    “We are working closely with the Ministry of Health of Ukraine and have direct links with multiple Ukrainian hospitals affected by the crisis, focusing on their most pressing needs. Effective management by our charity will help us get the best value for every donation we receive in a fair and transparent manner.

    “All funds raised by Medical Help Ukraine will go strictly towards assisting Ukrainian citizens who are victims of the conflict, and medical staff in their efforts to heal those wounded.

    “We have had very generous donations from the public and from the HSE and other organisations. We have been able, among other things, to purchase generators for Ukrainian hospitals, as many of them do not have electricity and would otherwise not be able to function. Lifeline Ambulances and the HSE have donated 10 ambulances to us to date. Convoys with medical supplies are usually sent out twice a week.”

    Katya was born and raised in Kyiv and is an only child. “My mother has lived there for her whole life. We are in touch every day with our family and friends over there. A lot of our spare time has been spent keeping in phone contact, particularly when family or friends are in an area that might be under attack and you want to check on them.”

    A new reality, a new focus

    In the earlier days of the invasion, Katya found it quite difficult to go about her daily work knowing what was happening in her homeland. “To be honest, the first 72 hours were the worst. I was in a state of shock. You continue doing your daily routines but it’s hard to focus, Eventually, you arrive at a sort of acceptance that this is the new reality and that your country needs you. Objectively, I can do a lot more from here now than from Ukraine, because over there I would be sitting in a bomb shelter.

    “I am still working; still seeing patients, and helping out with our charity. In a way it is a little bit distracting to have a routine, and GP work is quite intense in any case and keeps you focused.”

    Katya Kachurets came to Ireland after graduating from medical school in Poland and interned at St Vincent’s University Hospital, following which she started on the Midlands GP training scheme.

    “I enjoyed my training; it was quite intense. Part of my training was during the pandemic so that was a challenge in itself. The hospital part of training was quite full-on but I learned a lot – it was a lot of long hours and nightshifts but I think it’s essential for GPs in training to be exposed to the hospital environment and to emergency care as later on in general practice you have to be prepared to cope with the unexpected.”

    The appeal of general practice

    After graduating from training in 2021 she took a short break, then started working in a the Glenview Clinic in Tallaght and has been working there since. She says the practice team have been very supportive to her in these difficult times.

    “It’s always appealed to me that in general practice you are able to look after the whole family, from young to old, providing the full cycle of care, getting to know everyone in the family and building a strong relationship over many years. The difficulty in hospital medicine is you look after somebody then you discharge them and you know that you might never see them again, and you might be wondering about their health after discharge. As a GP, if I am worried about a patient I can always pick up the phone and call them to check. The holistic care in general practice is very important to me.

    “While I enjoy it, working in general practice can at times get a little overwhelming, especially when Covid started to wane and patients started to present with lists of conditions and issues that remained untreated during the pandemic.”

    Healthcare challenges for refugees 

    Katya says before it was severely damaged by the invasion, the health system in Ukraine had less focus on primary care than in Ireland. 

    “It’s largely based around secondary care. We have a network of GPs but patients normally go straight to see a specialist, even with relatively minor conditions. That’s why it may be a bit challenging at first for Ukrainian refugees here to understand the system. Another difference in Ireland is that consultation times are a lot longer in Ukraine – often at least 30 minutes per patient, compared to around 15-20 minutes or less in Ireland.

    “The language barrier will obviously be another challenge for Ukrainian patients in terms of communication and in navigating the structure of the Irish health system. With this in mind, I have been involved in making videos for the HSE explaining the Irish healthcare system and translating healthcare terminology, and these will be appearing on the HSE website.”

    Katya said in Ukraine, there ostensibly is free healthcare but in reality many services still have to be paid for. She says in Ireland far more services appear to be available free of charge.

    As of now, however, the Ukrainian health system has essentially collapsed. “Russia has bombed many healthcare facilities. Some of the hospitals in certain regions have been completely destroyed and patients had to be moved to other regions. Every still-functioning hospital in Ukraine has been converted to a military hospital, treating wounded soldiers and civilians, and hospitals are very much relying on medical supplies donated from abroad.”

    Katya is a member of the ICGP, and recently addressed a college webinar seeking donations for Medical Help Ukraine.    “The College webinars have been invaluable for keeping us up to date with the latest pandemic information and with general clinical updates.”

    She loves living in Ireland. “I fell in love with Dublin when I first came here. As I trained in English at medical school I wanted to practise in an English-speaking country. I love the Irish people; their warmth and kindness.

    “Historically there are some parallels between Ukraine and Ireland – having a ‘big brother’ country next door, and having to fight for your independence and freedom. Irish people can relate to what we are going through. Our conflict has been on a bigger scale, but we share the same values; the same love of freedom. It has been very encouraging too to see so many Irish people opening up their homes to Ukrainian people.”

    Katya says that as soon as it is possible, her mother will be one of the first people back on the plane to Ukraine. “She has no intention of staying in Ireland long-term. Kyiv is her home. She likes being here but I reckon many of the older Ukrainian people who come here will want to go back. 

    “I love it here. Ireland is now my home, and I would expect to stay here long-term. I would plan to return to Ukraine for a time after the war as soon as it’s possible to help in the rebuilding process but in the longer-term I intend to stay in Ireland.

    “As regards the war, like many Ukrainians, I’m not allowing myself to think about worst case scenarios. I’m trying to remain positive. In my head I still believe the war will end and we will regain our independence and our freedom.”

    © Medmedia Publications/Forum, Journal of the ICGP 2022