Going nowhere is scarier than staying under shelling

Oksana Myronenko, a trauma surgeon, already had to move twice because of the war. (Credit: Olha Surovska)

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has cost Oksana Myronenko the life of her mother and health of her father. Myronenko, once a trauma surgeon, didn’t stop fighting. She now dedicates her life rescuing the elderly and disabled people left behind in Ukraine's war. Since March 2022, Oksana has taken care of 400 internally displaced persons (IDPs).

In 2014, Myronenko was living in Shchastya, in the Luhansk region of Ukraine with her husband, also a trauma surgeon. The town was suddenly invaded by Russia-led militants. 

“We sent our kids and parents to a safe Ukrainian city while we ourselves stayed in war-torn Shchastya to do our job without electricity and sometimes without water or internet access,” Myronenko said. “During those few months we gained vast experience in military field surgery. We eagerly anticipated the victory, but Luhansk stayed occupied.”

The family moved to Bucha in the Kyiv region and continued living there even when Shchastya was eventually liberated. They kept a family country house in Shchastya. 

“We had a good life and worked 24/7. My sister and parents had their own homes, and so did we. We holidayed twice a year. Everything was ok. But the war came to us again,” Myronenko said. 

When the fighting escalated in the Ukrainian government-controlled Shchastya on 21 and 22 February, 2022, Myronenko’s parents were in the family’s country house.

“They fled to Bucha, but the war followed them. We had to hide our kids from shelling attacks under blankets and mattresses. But we decided that children shouldn’t have to live like that. We already knew what Russians could do with adults and children,” Myronenko recalled.

Myronenko fled with her own family to Ivano-Frankivsk, but her parents decided to stay in Bucha for another week. 

“My parents planned to go to Ivano-Frankivsk to stay with our kids, while my husband and I would go back to Bucha to do our job as doctors. But the car that was evacuating my parents was shelled. My mother was killed. My father sustained injuries to his hand. He managed to get out of the car before it exploded,” Oksana recalled.

According to her, Myronenko’s father hid in a nearby barn until she managed to get in touch with him. 

“I found people in local Bucha volunteer chats who took my dad to their home. He got some medical help, and we decided to take the risk again the next day. That’s how my father managed to flee Bucha,” Myronenko recalled.

Rescuing the left behind

In Ivano-Frankivsk, Myronenko and her husband worked with local authorities to organise the evacuation of the elderly and people with disabilities from the cities that are being shelled to the hospitals in Ivano-Frankivsk and the region. Usually, evacuation happens in three phases, she said.

The first people to flee are those who go abroad after the first shelling attack in order to look for a “better life”. Families with kids and grandparents normally follow. They sometimes leave without their belongings and money but still find ways to survive and find a job wherever they settle. 

The last people to flee are those who can’t leave the city by themselves because of a disability, lack of money, or nowhere to go. Sometimes these people need to be evacuated by force because everything around them is already ruined. They are taken out of basements where they hide and taken to safer territories. 

Such people need more care and consideration, but they usually end up sleeping on the floor of a sports hall as the shelters with better living conditions are full.

These people also usually require medical help. After weeks of living in a basement and under shelling, their poor health deteriorates. Some of them have injuries. Myronenko and other volunteers meet them at the railway station, take them to a hospital, and give them the time and conditions to recover.

“They often refuse to evacuate. They don't want to go because they have nowhere to go. They had spent three months in a basement without their pensions. Furthermore, they are frightened. Going nowhere is scarier than staying under shelling,” Myronenko said. 

“90 per cent of houses in Donetsk and Luhansk are destroyed”

She knows how hard it can be because she moved twice. 

“You leave everything you know behind and step into nowhere, you don’t know anyone and can’t do anything. Even if you have some energy and money left, it's never easy. But these people have no other option,” Myronenko explained.

Myronenko founded a volunteer organisation  named “Sokil”, which provides IDPs with medicines, clothes, and hygiene kits. While they are in the hospital, they can recover their documents and organise state social payments. After they are discharged from the hospital, Oksana helps them find temporary housing. Since March, she has taken care of 400 IDPs, and more and more new people arrive every day. 

“90 per cent of houses in Donetsk and Luhansk regions are destroyed. These people have nowhere to go, and they now have nothing to live for,” Myronenko noted. “Single people with disabilities need to be in care homes or geriatric centres. Unfortunately, Ukraine was not ready for the war, and there are no such places.”

Myronenko explained that this is why she – along with other foundations – is equipping new centres and expanding those that already exist. 

“We also search for old abandoned houses in small villages, equip them with mobility aids, crutches, hygiene items, household appliances and other humanitarian aid specific to their needs, and house these IDPs in them,” she noted.

Bucha is now liberated, but Myronenko isn’t ready to bring her kids back there yet. She wants to establish a charitable fund in honour of her late mother, whom she didn’t manage to save from the war.