UMANA’s Solomiya Grushchak: Ukrainians are willing to sacrifice and uphold our culture even in times of crisis

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Solomiya Grushchak, MD

Chief resident, John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County; Member, Ukrainian Medical Association of North America

What should be highlighted too, is just that there’s huge support from not only the Ukrainian community in Chicago, but everywhere else in the United States.

Ukrainian communities across the United States are sending essential medical and humanitarian supplies to Ukraine via organizations, including the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America, said Solomiya Grushchak, a member of UMANA.

“There is a huge initiative to provide support as much as possible,” said Grushchak, chief resident at the John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County. “That includes not only medical supplies, but also humanitarian aid—things like non-perishable food, diapers, clothing, blankets, sleeping bags—to Poland, in addition to things like helmets, protective gear for both civilians and the military.”

Grushchak’s family has chosen to remain in Ukraine. “My close family is in Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk, which is on the western side, closer to the Polish border,” Grushchak said.

“In times of need, it seems like everybody has been able to band together, but it’s still very critical at the moment. Everything is changing minute by minute.”

Grushchak spoke with Matthew Ong, associate editor of The Cancer Letter.

Matthew Ong: What do the circumstances look like right now for people you know in Ukraine? How can our audience help?

Solomiya Grushchak: At the moment, some families decided they are staying, particularly because men ages 18 to 60 wouldn’t be able to cross the border or are willing to. A lot of people are leaving cities and going to the outskirts of cities.

There is a huge initiative to provide support as much as possible. Refugees have been displaced to Poland and are trying to connect with people from Chicago through the Ukrainian relief efforts to get supplies. 

That includes not only medical supplies, but also humanitarian aid—things like non-perishable food, diapers, clothing, blankets, sleeping bags—to Poland, in addition to things like helmets, protective gear for both civilians and the military, and that is then to be transferred to Poland and then via courier to Ukraine. 

That’s all volunteer-based. Right now, there are several different non-profit organizations assisting with refugee aid.

For medical support particularly, the Ukrainian Medical Association, obviously, wasn’t expecting  this atrocious geopolitical crisis of such magnitude, and are adjusting our strategies and optimizing procedures as we go along. 

Can you tell me a bit more about yourself, about the Ukrainian Medical Association, and your role within it?

SG: Sure. I’m actually born in Ivano-Frankivsk, which is on the Western side of Ukraine. All my family is actually in Ukraine at the moment, except for a cousin in New York. 

In Chicago, luckily, there is a huge Ukrainian diaspora, and I was involved in Ukrainian dance, Ukrainian scouting, and then one of the organizations was the Ukrainian Medical Association. And through that, that’s how I actually decided to pursue a career in medicine, through mentors that I established.

UMANA is receiving hundreds of pounds of medical supplies daily.
Source: UMANA

Since then, I’ve partaken in several fundraising efforts. Specifically in 2015, myself and fellow UMANA member Areta Bojko organized a grass-roots mission trip through Ukraine, providing supplies for hospitals in Lviv and Kyiv as well as volunteering in the military hospitals and public hospitals in Lviv. Back when conflict started, several years ago, during the Orange Revolution, and then the aftermath, we did partake in a mission trip through Ukraine, providing supplies for both Lviv, Kyiv and the military hospitals and public hospitals there.

Obviously, now this is on a much larger scale, since these people have a pretty decent understanding, are very helpful and willing to be involved. Whereas at that point, I think it was not quite well known—the long conflict between Russia and Ukraine, a long history of conflict.

What can our network of U.S. centers, associations, and cancer organizations do for physicians, health professionals, and scientific experts in and out of Ukraine right now?

SG: Right now, this is the part where I’d like to get more of an opinion from the physicians in Ukraine, because I don’t have much contact with them at the moment, but I think spreading awareness is always important, fundraising for medical supplies through the Ukrainian Medical Association. I have information and contact on what supplies we’re trying to transport to Poland and then Ukraine.

And then, aside from that, assisting physicians to take refuge in other countries, both in Europe and in the United States. And then, if the need arises, to have physicians actually go there to the hospitals, because I’m sure that will be quite an issue after all this is over.

Are there any other comments that you want to get across?

SG: I’m just really proud of the response that we’ve received from the global sphere, and we hope that the conflict ends soon. We are thankful for the continued support from both within the medical field and abroad.

Did you say you have family members right now back home in Ukraine?

SG: My close family, aside from my parents and brother, are in Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk, which is on the western side, closer to the Polish border.

UMANA’s volunteers during the first few days of collection, as they organize supplies into three categories: hospital, surgery, and supplies for frontlines. 
Source: UMANA

They haven’t decided to leave, even with all the resources that we’ve provided them to try to move forward with either a visa to the United States or to Poland. So they, I think, are hopeful that all of this ends and they’re just very prideful and they love their country. They love their life in Ukraine.

I think that goes to show that much of this propaganda war actually didn’t work to Putin’s benefit, because Ukrainian people are very prideful and they’re willing to sacrifice and uphold their traditions and their culture even in times of crisis.

What should be highlighted too, is just that there’s huge support from not only the Ukrainian community in Chicago, but everywhere else in the United States.  

And it would be great to have a unified voice, unified force—and that’s why I think the medical association promised to provide—but we really appreciate everybody else’s initiatives and efforts. It’s fantastic.

In times of need, it seems like everybody has been able to band together, but it’s still very critical at the moment. Everything is changing minute by minute.

I hope that your loved ones are safe and I hope that everything will turn out okay for your family in Ukraine. Please reach out if there’s anything we can amplify.

SG: Thank you, I appreciate that.

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