Ukraine: Caring for villagers trapped near frontlines in Opytne
Opytne is a frontline village that lies in government-controlled territory in Ukraine, opposite the destroyed Donetsk Airport, which is now in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
Without transportation and isolated by poor weather, the villagers, mostly elderly people, have no choice but to live with the constant stress of the conflict in the region. Nearby shelling engenders acute anxiety and depression, in addition to cutting off access to regular care for chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes.
In response, a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) mobile clinic team, comprising a doctor, a nurse, and a psychologist, is providing primary health care and psychological consultations to villagers. The team started on 14 December, using a resident’s home as a base of operations.
“Without access to a regular doctor, the villagers in Opytne practice self-care, measure each other’s blood pressure, and self-medicate,” said Myriam Berry, MSF field coordinator for Donetsk oblast (province).
Reluctant to leave
“As there is no road, there are no cars in the village and residents are walking several kilometres to reach Avdiivka [a nearby city] through a field.”
Our team found residents living in partially destroyed buildings and relying on international non-governmental organisations for food, heating, and electricity. But despite the conditions, many residents are reluctant to flee their homes.
“The proximity to the frontline puts the population under daily stress with the nearby sound of shelling,” said Berry.
“It is, by far, the worst situation of despair I’ve seen in our project since I arrived in May 2017. From the ten patients we have already assessed, half had blood pressure measuring over 200, which indicates the constant stress they are under.”
“We had tried to access the village for two months after our initial assessment,” said Berry. Opytne is only reachable via a narrow dirt track along the front line, with other entrances possibly mined or restricted to use by the Ukrainian military.
“Between security issues and poor weather, which turns the road into a mudslide, we struggled to get through. We now aim to assess all residents who need medical attention and provide medication which will last for two months, in case we experience access issues again.”
MSF runs mobile clinics for those most in need of healthcare and psychological support in 28 locations in Donetsk oblast, with four teams based out of Mariupol and Kurakhove. Most patients supported by our mobile clinics are women over the age of 50 suffering from chronic illnesses.
To address the effect of the conflict on mental health, MSF psychologists conduct individual and group counselling sessions and mental health awareness education, offering coping techniques for those living in the conflict area as well as teachers and medical staff.