Medical intern Alina Manko sits at a desk and speaks with a woman as other patients wait for their turn.
Wearing a red vest and cap, Manko is part of a group staffing mobile units funded by the Canadian Red Cross that provide health care in central Ukraine for thousands of citizens displaced by the war with Russia.
“It is part of my job to help people if they are broken,” Manko says in halting English from the makeshift clinic inside a community centre in Korsun-Shevchenkivskyi, two hours south of Kyiv.
The clinic moves every few days to another community and sets up in different buildings.
It’s always busy, Manko adds. Most patients seeking help are elderly or young children.
“It’s a very important job for us and our team help these old people every day. We are trying to help with their problems, to provide medicine.”
Dozens of boxes of clothing and medical supplies are stacked in rows in the entrance to the clinic.
Three retired seniors wait on a bench outside for a chance to see the doctor or a nurse. They speak with The Canadian Press through an interpreter.
The women showed up the day before, they say, but it was busy and they were asked to return the next morning.
Tamara Romanova says she has problems with her knee.
“I go to the regular clinics but they can’t solve my problems so I tried to find out how I can fix it with the Red Cross’s help,” she says.
Most of the mobile units have set up shop in the Cherkasy Oblast region, a relatively safe area where about 300,000 Ukrainians have taken refuge. They have rented apartments, moved in with other families or settled in community centres.
Some fled heavy fighting in areas including Donbas and Kharkiv.
Lovov Momot says it’s peaceful in Korsun-Shevchenkivskyi, but it’s not home and there’s not enough help.
“I’ve been living in Korsun for more than two years. There’s not regular help here. There was no humanitarian aid for five months,” she says while waiting to see the doctor.
“Everybody wants to return to their homes.”
Mathieu Leonard, program manager for the Canadian Red Cross in Ukraine, says the country’s health-care system is under strain.
“The health system has been affected severely because of less resources and also the people who are displaced, They don’t have access to this care,” he says.
Central Ukraine has become a beacon for those fleeing the war, says Leonard.
“First, it’s the safety. There’s relatively less attacks in this region.
“It’s also relatively closer to their provinces of origins … also economically the cost of living is a bit lower than places like Kyiv or other main cities.”
The Canadian Red Cross is also helping refurbish some community centres being used to house the displaced, Leonard says, by making sure the buildings have proper plumbing and heating.
A former university dorm turned community centre in Korsun-Shevchenkivskyi is getting a fresh coat of paint, new furniture and bathrooms. It houses 98 people, mostly women and children, and each floor contains desks so children can continue their education.
Leonard says mental health supports are also provided.
“One of the things we are seeing more is the mental distress that is starting to accumulate with time,” he says.
“You have young people who suddenly were injured and their lives have changed after amputation and things like this. It’s a difficult condition, so we’re trying to at least give them a bit of help.”
Yulia Holodna, head of the Cherkasy branch of the Ukrainian Red Cross, says each floor at the community centre will cater to children of different ages.
“We’re going to make a special studying area for those kids. And we will have a bunch of activities going on in here, different kinds of psychologists and different kinds of social workers will work with them,” she says.
Leonard says the work can be heartbreaking.
“It’s never easy. It’s difficult, but I admire the people,” he says.
“They are very strong. They are very resilient and they are really making a lot of efforts to contribute.”
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2023.