Ukraine: “Tell people what is happening here”

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Valentina Viktorovna is a 52-year-old teacher who has seen her life torn apart by the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. She lives in Pavlopil with her husband, a village located only a few kilometres away from the contact line. After losing her job, her house was repeatedly damaged by shelling. She is now trying to put her life back together, helping others and hoping for the violence to cease. Valentina and her husband are receiving medical care from MSF. In addition, Valentina has also attended mental health counselling in order to cope with the stressful environment she had to live in for the past two-and-a-half years. 

Valentina Viktorovna, 52 years old, explains to MSF how she and her husband kept themselves safe during shelling
Valentina Viktorovna, 52 years old, explains to MSF how she and her
 husband kept themselves safe during shelling. Photo: Maurice Ressel

“All my memories are in this village, it is here that I have built myself a life and raised our two sons with my husband. It used to be such a beautiful place; people would come here to spend summer time alongside the river. There was even a plan to build a tourist resort.

Then the conflict started.

I used to be a teacher in the village primary school. I loved my job. I kept all the drawings and pictures from my pupils. I was forced to retire when they closed the school. It became too dangerous for the children to stay as shelling was happening close by. So now, at only 52, I am already retired. Fortunately, my husband still has his job at the factory.

I can’t get used to it, to this slow rhythm.  If I had to compare it to something I would say I was like a high-speed train that has been brutally stopped. So now I keep myself busy with volunteer work here and there, go and meet the other families from the village and see how I can be helpful. This is how I find meaning in this new daily routine: assisting others.


There has been so much shelling near the house, so it is very damaged. It looks like it is going to fall on us. I can still remember the first time – the noise – and how everything was trembling around us. I was so afraid, picturing ourselves rushing out of a completely destroyed house. Luckily enough, the house is still standing, but it will take us time to fix it as we can’t afford to pay for the repairs.

During the shelling, my husband and I used to sit here in the living room, away from the windows, in the complete dark with the hanging lights on the ceiling shaking above our heads. We thought keeping our minds busy would be helpful to reduce the fear, so we started with this habit of playing games and riddles.

This conflict has torn families apart. Many left the village and some others left the country, like my eldest son. Even the ones who stayed in the region are afraid to come and visit because, even if it is more quiet now, the situation is still unstable. I don’t get to see my sons and grandchildren often so I keep their pictures and drawings on this wall to have the feeling they are here with us. I miss them so much.

We were just left with nothing. Fortunately, we received support from organisations.

I hope that this violence will come to an end soon so we will be able to go back to our lives. Maybe it will help… tell people what is happening here.”


82-years-old Taisiya Gregorivna is receiving medical care and mental health support from MSF via its mobile clinic in Pavlopil.
82-years-old Taisiya Gregorivna is receiving medical care and mental health
support from MSF via its mobile clinic in Pavlopil. Photo: Maurice Ressel

“Pavlopil used to be a nice place to live”


Taisiya Gregorivna, an 82-year-old widow, has lived in Pavlopil in eastern Ukraine for the last forty-six years. Only a few kilometres away from the contact line, the ongoing conflict has taken a heavy toll on the village and its inhabitants. Since 2014, Taisiya’s house has been shelled twice, forcing her to move to a safer place for some time. After receiving the support of her family to rebuild her house, she is now back home. In addition, Taisiya suffers from a heart condition. Over the past months, she has received medical care from MSF as well as mental health support to cope with what she has been through due to the conflict.

“I was born in Russia. Before coming to Ukraine, I used to work on a farm taking care of the livestock. I arrived in Pavlopil in 1970 where I got married, built our house and had four children, three daughters and a son.

I can’t recall exactly when my house was first damaged by shelling, but I remember being very scared. Two shells hit the road, just in front of the main entrance with shrapnel damaging the walls and some windows.

The second time was during winter. I was alone in the house, and it was a very dark night outside. The roof was shelled twice. It was destroyed together with some of the rooms. All the windows also broke apart. I called my daughter who lives in Mariupol and left for the city the day after.

It was unthinkable for me to stay alone here, it was too dangerous.

I stayed in Mariupol with my daughter and her family for months. Sometimes, I would go back to Pavlopil for some days, but the situation was still too volatile for me to come back home and I was too scared at night.

One night, I was in the kitchen in my daughter’s flat in Mariupol when a shell hit the place. I remember saying to myself: God saved me, for the third time, because I have never cursed in my life. I was grateful that my grandson had left the kitchen just a few minutes before the shelling. I don’t want to think about what could have happened to him.

I came back home to Pavlopil, about a year ago. One of my sons-in-law helped me with all the repairs. We managed to partially fix the roof thanks to the factory where one of my daughters works. They gave us the necessary material for free. He also helped me to fix the bedrooms and other parts inside the house that were damaged. But some parts of the roof still need to be fixed. However, I can’t afford to buy the sheet of metal. So for now, it will just have to stay like that.

One of my granddaughters also got her house destroyed because of shelling. Since then she is always scared. She now has diabetes. I am so worried for her – she is only twenty-two.

All the families here have been deeply affected by the conflict.

Pavlopil used to be a nice place to live. But since the conflict began the school has closed, because of shelling nearby. Only two small shops have reopened. Somehow, this is already an improvement as for months everything was closed. At the time, I was fortunate enough to have my children bringing me food every week.

Now that the situation is a bit calmer I feel more or less alright. I am able to go back to my daily activities. I have a bad heart condition but I do my best and I keep myself busy taking care of my house, my garden and my chickens. Without this, I would have died already.

I am so grateful for my family: my four children, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. They are a great support. They take such good care of me; they are the ones who helped me to get my home back.

Look around, others didn’t get so lucky.”


About mobile clinics around Mariupol and Kurakhove


Since March 2015, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been running mobile clinics in locations around Mariupol and Kurakhove. MSF mobile teams, usually composed of a doctor, a nurse and a psychologist, ensure medical consultations, donations of medicines and mental health support to displaced people as well as to the people living along the contact line. MSF also supports health facilities with the donations of medical supplies. 

In August 2015, MSF installed water distribution points at the Volnavakha-Donetsk checkpoint. Since July 2016, MSF is also supporting local health workers at the Mariinka checkpoint with donations of medical supplies.

As of the beginning of January 2017, MSF teams have carried out more than 36,800   medical consultations, as well as 5,980 individual and group mental health consultations around Mariupol and Kurakhove. Some 17,200 patients also attended from mental health awareness presentations in the mobile clinics. Anxiety-related disorders continue to be the main issue among patients receiving mental health support, followed by depression. Among patients MSF sees for general medical consultations, cardio-vascular diseases and diabetes are the two main conditions being reported. The majority of patients are elderly people suffering from chronic diseases, who are enrolled in a specific program to receive appropriate treatment and longer term monitoring of their condition.


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