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YSM Faculty Stand United For Ukraine

May 05, 2022
by Julie Parry

Although he moved away from Lviv, Ukraine in 1992, Andrey Zinchuk’s heart remains with his hometown and his country.

Since the war began, Zinchuk, MD, MHS, assistant professor of medicine (pulmonary, critical care & sleep medicine); and director, Advanced Apnea Management Program, has been connecting with other Ukrainians at Yale University and Yale School of Medicine (YSM). Although initially he felt helpless, he was compelled to support the war effort from almost 5000 miles away. 

Irina Esterlis, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology; and director, Molecular Imaging Program, NCPTSD, VA Connecticut Healthcare System; also reached out to Ukrainian colleagues. Born and raised in Kyiv, she was distraught by what she was seeing on the news and hearing from friends and family. Wanting to keep herself busy, she began baking traditional Ukrainian poppy seed breads as an incentive for donations, which went to support the needs in Ukraine.

“I love to bake. And I could punch the dough and get my anger out. And I cannot cry when I'm baking for somebody else because it needs to be sterile,” explained Esterlis. “Over $30,000 was raised this way.”

Zinchuk was introduced to Esterlis through a colleague. The duo then connected with Alla Vash-Margita, MD, FACOG, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences; and chief, Division of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, whom Zinchuk had met through a grant-writing course a few years ago. Vash-Margita was born in Ukraine and received her medical degree from Uzhgorod State University Medical Faculty. She is active in numerous global humanitarian organizations, including the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee and Yale’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Education Program, which provided psychological counseling to victims of the 2014 Ukraine Revolution as well as worked with the Revived Soldiers of Ukraine as liaison in organizing transfer and medical help to severely wounded soldiers in the United States. 

Zinchuk, Esterlis, and Vash-Margita, along with a several other Ukrainian Yale faculty, brainstormed about how they could help their homeland, and Doctors United for Ukraine, Inc. was born. They worked to engage the Yale and local community. They feverishly connected with friends, family, and former colleagues in hospitals across Ukraine to find out more information. Zinchuk reached out to an anesthesiologist at the Military Medical Clinical Center of the Western Region in Lviv, Ukraine, to determine their immediate needs.

“At that time, they were accepting critically wounded soldiers from the field from around the Kyiv area. They had patients that needed continuous dialysis but could not find the supplies to provide the care. So I called a bunch of people in Poland and found a company that was able to supply them. With donations from friends and family, we purchased $12,000 worth of supplies, and had them delivered to the hospital in Lviv,” explained Zinchuk.

Doctors United for Ukraine has been creative with getting supplies to hospitals in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, and Dnipro. They connected with local organizations, such as St. Michael the Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church in New Haven, for advice. After trying a few different routes to get materials sent, they determined it was quickest to buy supplies in Poland or Ukraine and hire someone to deliver the materials to Ukrainian physicians.

“Our aid is specific and timely. We rely on physician-to-physician communication with ICU docs in Kharkiv, Kyiv, Lviv, Odessa and in Dnipro Military Hospitals. We source supplies from companies in Ukraine or Poland to avoid shipping delays,” explained Zinchuk.

Doctors United for Ukraine has raised more than $200,000 and allocated $172,000 to deliver supplies. However, the need for medical supplies continues to grow. More ultrasounds, chest drain tubes, ventilators, vests, and other items are needed, said Zinchuk. With greater needs, more Yale School of Medicine members joined Doctors United for Ukraine, including Taras Lysyy, MD, associate research scientist of surgery (transplant); Maksym Minasyan, MD, postdoctoral associate; Katherine Kosiv, MD, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics (cardiology); and director of Fetal Cardiology Education, Pediatrics, and Myla Tsapar, program coordinator at Yale New Haven Health.

Department of Internal Medicine colleague and Ukraine researcher, Rick Altice, MD, professor of medicine (infectious diseases) and of epidemiology (microbial diseases) connected the group with Iryna Pykalo, director of the European Institute of Public Health Policy, to help to expand logistics and the delivery network in Ukraine.

“It is the beauty of everyone working together,” said Zinchuk.

“The goal is ever-evolving,” said Esterlis. “But the overall mission is to support the people of Ukraine. If we were there, we would have sent our families away and stayed to help. But since we cannot do that, we are here doing whatever we can.” 

While the organization has been able to get supplies into the hands of physicians who need them, Esterlis and Vash-Margita are concerned about the psychological and physical wounds of women and children in the country. Still, Vash-Margita is inspired by her countrymates. “You know what struck me? And it keeps amazing me. The people who are refugees, they bring their pets. They carry their pets, they just want to save them,” said Vash-Margita.

The trio has found solace in sharing their stories and taking action. “Luckily for my sanity, I met Alla and Andrey. Because they have saved me,” said Esterlis.

To learn more about Doctors United For Ukraine, contact Zinchuk, Esterlis, or Vash-Margita via email or visit their Dwight Hall at Yale website.

To learn more about Yale’s response to the invasion of Ukraine, visit the Yale and the World website.

Submitted by Julie Parry on May 05, 2022