“In the second week of the war, I got a message from my brother asking whether I could crowdfund for a surgeon friend in Dnipro,” Ukrainian-born Stella Kovalchuk recounts. “That’s how the story on the ‘C-arm’ started.” Within a week, Stella managed to raise the required €13,000 for a second-hand mobile X-ray machine in the shape of the letter ‘C’. The C-arm, which makes shrapnel and bone fragments visible during operations, was installed, and other machines followed. But with the continuous influx of wounded, more is needed.
“Ambulances drive from the front line into Dnipro and bring in wounded all the time,” Stella says of her hometown in central Ukraine. She has lived in the Netherlands for ten years and works for a streaming service where she makes apps. Two days before the war broke out in her native country, Stella received her Dutch passport. “My brother brought my parents to the border on day two of the war and then had to return to Dnipro: he is thirty years old and male, he is not allowed to leave the country. He doesn’t want to fight. He works in IT as well, and continues to do so, but his salary has been cut in half due to the loss of Russian contracts. He also volunteers for five hospitals, acting as an intermediary to get equipment. It started with the hospital his surgeon friend works at. But meanwhile he is assisting another four hospitals in Dnipro, to which surgeons from Mariupol have moved to operate war victims.”
Their parents went to live with Stella in her Haarlem flat: “The reality of war and its contrast to life here is mind-bending. I constantly receive messages about air raids through Telegram. Initially I was keeping track virtually non-stop. During a party I had put my phone away for just half an hour, and when I looked again, I saw that Dnipro had been attacked!” Stella scrolls through all the channels and apps she follows: “I’ve turned them on mute now.” As a result of the continuous stress and her relentless commitment, Stella ended up in burnout, from which she is now recovering.
Ray of hope: Surgeon receiving C-arm
Through ‘Haarlem4Ukraine’, Stella is committed to helping Ukrainians here, but especially those who stayed behind. The assistance to the five hospitals in Dnipro has grown into the international initiative ‘Med Help Dnipro’. “My brother intermediates between the doctors and suppliers. He is well connected to a supplier of second-hand medical equipment in Ukraine. Ukraine was not a poor country before the war, but many public facilities were not up to standard. The hospitals were outdated as well. This is why there was already a supplier of second-hand medical equipment in the Ukraine. I could not find any second-hand supplier in the Netherlands and transporting the equipment would add additional costs. A new C-arm amounted to € 150,000; we arranged a second-hand one for € 13,000. The highlight of the process was when the surgeon received the C-arm.”
Donating for medical equipment and medicines
After this special X-ray machine, Stella and her fellow volunteers arranged for two mobile ultrasound machines, two vacuum machines to heal shell wounds faster, and two steam cleaners for sterilising medical instruments. Stella and her team also arranged for the electricity networks in the hospitals to be upgraded, so that all equipment could be powered. Currently, the five hospitals in Dnipro are in particular need of ‘Tigecycline’, a particular variety of antibiotics for intensive care units. In addition, donations can be made for the renovation of the X-ray room in one of the hospitals. Donations for mobile ultrasound equipment are also still welcome. The latter equipment allows doctors to determine where exactly patients should be anaesthetised without the need to use overcrowded ultrasound rooms. A second-hand version of this type of ultrasound machine comes to € 20,000. Donations can be made through Haarlem4Ukraine or directly through Med Help Dnipro.
One big family
Stella looks back on the moment that her brother involved her in his campaigns: “I thought ‘Yo, I’m just a little girl, this scale of project is rather something for Giro555 or the Red Cross’. I’m an introverted programmer, I’m not a social worker or a politician. I love my job in IT. My employer supports my voluntary work, also now that I am in a work reintegration program after my burn-out.” Stella can’t stop dedicating herself to her war-torn homeland: “Besides my brother, my grandmother and my cousins and their children are still in Ukraine, but since February 24th everyone in Ukraine is family.”
For more information and donations:
(Here doctors speak about how the medical equipment and medicines they received help them do their work. For security reasons, they do so anonymously.)
NL70 RABO 0190106670
Reference: Med Help Dnipro
Interviewer and author: Lisa Koolhoven
Translation: Saskia Hin