The fear and loneliness of the Ukrainian 'babushkas'

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Fear and loneliness of Ukrainian 'babushkas'

In any peaceful country, if a person has a blood pressure level > very altered, like 200 over 100 -when the normal pressure reading is 120 over 80- she is hospitalized. Not in the war. Cases of high blood pressure, among many other ailments, is what is being found Mobile clinics run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have entered the Kharkov area recaptured by Ukraine after months of Russian occupation.

Many of the patients are 'babushkas'older women and older Ukrainian women– who have survived as best they could to more than half a year of Russian occupation in shelters, sharing what little food there was. The ailments of any woman her age have multiplied exponentially and now the health workers in Kharkiv have found unresolved medical and mental needs.

< p>Fear and the loneliness of Ukrainian 'babushkas'

Ukrainian patients wait to be treated in a mobile clinic run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF). 


Limited mobility, hearing loss or sight, hypertension, diabetes< /strong>, are an example of the medical tables found by health workers, as explained by doctor Gino Manciati, head of the MSF medical team, to point out: “In another context, these patients would be hospitalized. It's just not possible here.” The doctor explains that the Untreated high blood pressure can lead to serious complications such as loss of vision, kidney failure, neurological deterioration, and even sudden death. < strong>LThe lack of health personnel and medicines, in addition to the stress of the war, has caused the medical conditions of many patients to get out of control. “Unfortunately, we have seen patients who have ended up developing complications in their organs, such as kidney failure,” adds the doctor.

Diabetics without medication

In In this region, the war has prevented many people with diabetes from having access to medicines, exacerbated by the fact that food shortages have prevented them from controlling their diet, which has led to problems withmobility, vision, and muscle function.

One of them is María, who has trouble walking after months without treatment for her diabetes. “We came here [to the clinic] for the 'babushka,'” says Tonya, Maria's daughter. “She's shaking and her head hurts. [It's been months] & nbsp; we haven't got any medication for her diabetes “, she points out. Tonya's husband, who suffers from paralysis, has returned home. Like many other people with severe disabilities, her husband has difficulties leaving the house and therefore cannot access any type of healthcare.

The fear and loneliness of Ukrainian 'babushkas'

Maria, an elderly Ukrainian woman, and her daughter Tonya, with Dr. Igor Bodnia at a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) mobile clinic in Ukraine. 


” An old woman had walked half an hour to get to our clinic, which is not easy when you have trouble walking”, recalls Dr. Manciati, who could not help but be surprised: “What surprised me was that there was no She was there for herself, but to get medicine for her husband.We see it sometimes: These older women come to us from far away, not only for themselves, but for their husbands or daughters or sons, who cannot reach our teams. One thinks it's over. here He was there to support the people who see, but sometimes the impact goes further.”

Psychological wounds

“When he got there, he was scared. During the war, on the morning of February 24, I was sitting by my window,” says Raisa, 68, who has remained in his home village of Yakovenkove from the start. “I heard loud explosions and saw a cloud of dust in the sky. Rows of tanks began to advance. When we understood that not everything would be over in a day, we tried to think what to do: how to eat, how to “Take care of our orchards. We tried to get used to the situation, but it was impossible to get used to such a volume of shelling. Shooting all night and all day. It was terrible.”

Raisa receives mental health support from the psychological team of the MSF mobile clinic. It provides patients with tools to manage their stress, which can help normalize blood pressure, and provides coping mechanisms for anxiety, acute stress reactions, and panic attacks. “I came to see the psychologist because I still can't sleep,” says Raisa. “In the dead of night, missiles fly over buildings. It's very scary. It's scary. destroying my nervous system“.

Although many people recover on their own from nightmares and flashbacks, mental health support can speed your recovery. When this support is not enough, MSF doctors and psychologists work together to find the best way to help patients.

“I wake up horrified”

” I sleep very badly,  I'm exhausted“, acknowledges Valentyna, 70, from Vasylenkova, who lost her heart. to her son Roma because of a land mine . “I wake up horrified and see it in front of me. & Nbsp; This war has taken away my health and my son ,” she says. “I cry and scream. Now he is gone and my life is over“.

Valentyna receives medical attention to help her with her sleep problems, while MSF psychologists help her they provide mental health support.

Many of the older women who come to MSF clinics  feel isolated, abandoned and alone< /strong> With the pain of losing family members and the life they knew, many they feel that their lives no longer have meaning. “For these older women, the feeling of having lost their purpose in life causes anxiety, and the impression of having to rebuild a new purpose for the last years of their life. life, hopelessness,” says the manager of MSF mental health activities, Camilo García. “We hear older women tell us that they feel the last years of their lives have been stolen from them,” she adds.

Among the most vulnerable  There are older people with dementia or psychiatric conditions who were unable to travel to safety at the start of the war and those who are alone with no one to care for them. Some decided to stay in their homes, others were evacuated to overcrowded hospices in the cities; these evacuations are still going on.

Although the mental health needs of the inhabitants of this region are high, García believes that his inner strength will help them. It helped them cope and recover.

The 'babushkas' in Ukraine have a hidden power: resilience,” says García. “They have decided to stay in their villages despite the fighting and the bombs. They have defended their right to stay where they belong -he adds-, which requires courage.”