Next Generation is a Brigham Clinical & Research News column penned by students, residents, fellows and postdocs. If you are a Brigham trainee interested in contributing a column, email us. This month’s column is written by Nadiya Chuchvara, MD, an intern in the Department of Medicine.
I grew up in the small town of Bibrka, Ukraine, where it was not customary to grow empty lawns, but rather fill one’s front yard with flowers, berries, vegetables, herbs, and fruit trees: true, individual gardens. One never passed a neighbor, or even a stranger, working in their garden without uttering the phrase, “Dai Bozhe shchastya,” directly translated as, “May God grant you happiness.” It was an acknowledgment of the hard work and pride they were putting into cultivating the land that was theirs, growing food that would feed their families and flowers that would beautify their neighborhood.
The pride that Ukrainians have for their land translates into the relentless defense of their sovereignty. A dark history of subjugation prompted Ukrainians to cling even tighter to the preservation of their centuries-rich culture and values of tradition, community and freedom. I am a proud Ukrainian-American, part of the first generation born in an independent Ukraine. While I immigrated to New Jersey with my parents and older sister at a fairly young age, my ties to my birth country remained strong through summers spent at my grandmother’s house, attending Ukrainian school every Saturday, dancing on a Ukrainian ballroom dance team, and serving as a Ukrainian girl scout. February 24, 2022, marked not only the start of full-scale Russian invasion in Ukraine, but the end of every Ukrainian’s day-to-day life as they had previously known it. I know I speak for Ukrainians near and far when I say it was the beginning of the most difficult weeks of our lives.
“How is your family?” This question poured into my inbox and messages. By no means is this an easy question to answer. Nearly all of my extended family, and many dear friends, live in Ukraine. Even those who live in “quieter” regions hear daily air-raid sirens—grave reminders that the sky is never truly safe. “How can I help?” – an even better question. I have witnessed so many individuals, with varying degrees of closeness to the cause, reach out with eager willingness to show support, from monetary support and participating in fundraisers, to donating humanitarian aid and volunteering, spreading awareness, writing to their representatives and attending rallies and demonstrations. This support has not only given me hope, but it gives a tangible chance to those who are fighting for their lives or putting their lives on the line for others. I have seen that spark of renewed optimism when I tell my loved ones in Ukraine about the compassion and generosity of relative strangers abroad.
I count my blessings and privilege every day that I am safe, an ocean away from the true threat of violence. But intern year is not without its challenges. Throw in any major life tragedy, and it can seem insurmountable without the proper support system in place. For that reason, the most important part of a residency program, in my mind, is its people. In a trying time like this, promises of support and community are put to the test. I have been grateful to see the “family feel” of the Brigham and Women’s Internal Medicine program in action: Joel Katz, MD, director of the Internal Medicine residency program, and the chief residents have reached out and offered to help, Mass General Brigham has organized a committee for Ukraine relief, team members on service have provided support and space as needed, co-residents have selflessly offered to cover a shift, and friends have invited me to grab a meal or just talk. Seeing people who truly care, who want to help, reminds me that I am not alone. Ukraine is not alone.
Ukrainians are putting up a relentless fight every day, demonstrating heroism and bravery that has caught the world’s attention. As a parting request, I ask that you remember that Ukrainians are peaceful people who could have been anybody—could have just as easily been myself today, if not for my parents’ immense sacrifice for their children, and a winning ticket in the immigration lottery. Ukrainians simply want to live a life of freedom in their own land. But there are currently entire cities under siege, hospitals and residential communities leveled by airstrikes, women giving birth in bomb shelters, civilians wounded as they attempt escape. About 10 million people—roughly a quarter of the population—have been displaced from their homes. I am passionate about supporting grassroots efforts to deliver desperately needed aid on the ground quickly to those who need it most, and am proud to see massive efforts organized by the Ukrainian diaspora in the USA. Some organizations close to my own heart are Baranova27, Razom for Ukraine, and the Ukrainian National Women’s League of America (UNWLA).
Thank you, and Dai Bozhe shchastya.
Ways to Help
There has been an unprecedented response from Mass General Brigham community members who want to contribute their time and talents in support of the Ukrainian people. Mass General Brigham physicians continue to support the Stop the Bleed program, as well as non-communicable disease control for conditions such as diabetes in countries affected by the ongoing war, by providing operational and clinical resources. The Mass General Center for Global Health has established The Ukraine Surgical Response Team, focusing on medical support, supplies and on-the-ground assistance. And more than 170 staff have requested to join the Global Disaster Response roster.