“The most important is to stay human”: the story of a Ukrainian nurse from Kharkiv caring for patients amid the war
12 May 2023
“I haven’t fled because I love my colleagues and care about our patients.
When it all started, they could not just stand up from their hospital beds and escape. What would they do all by themselves if all medical staff ran away?” says Khrystyna Lopatenko, a chief nurse at Kharkiv Oblast Hospital.
On International Nurses Day, celebrated on 12 May, Khrystyna shares her story about work under air raid sirens and in bomb shelters, and her motivation to stay in Ukraine and continue saving lives during the war.
Nursing in the midst of an emergency
The district where Khrystyna had lived in Kharkiv was the first one attacked, so she had no other choice but to move to live in the hospital with her family. She is still living there. “The nursing job has benefits that I had not been aware of before the war,” she says. “I wonder where I’d go if I worked in some other place. Here is my home now, where we all live as one big family.”
Only 500 out of 2300 medical staff continued providing service in the Kharkiv Oblast Hospital. As a result, Khrystyna’s nursing job has expanded and changed drastically since February 2022. The hospital became a hub for humanitarian aid targeted at all health care facilities in Kharkiv oblast.
Among her tasks, she had to manage the distribution of medical supplies, taking into account severe infrastructure damage and lack of access. Khrystyna shares an example of a truck with 40 tons of humanitarian aid that arrived, and there were only 4 nurses to unload it. Moreover, they had only 30 minutes and the air raid siren went on. “In such situations, you have no time to think what to do and nobody to seek advice from. There it is, and you have to solve it straight away,” says the chief nurse.
After nearly 15 months of war, Khrystyna Lopatenko feels a renewal of energy. She says that she became adapted to the volatile situation and now gets more concerned with silence. “If in the first months I used to run away from air rides and air strikes, now I treat them as a sign that the process is going on, and we are getting closer to victory.”
Khrystyna has a degree in psychology and it helps her cope with chronic stress as well as support those around her. “Sometimes all that people need is just to talk, to discuss something, to let it all out of their system, forget and move on,” she says.
On International Nurses Day, Khrystyna Lopatenko shares her message with future nurses, underlying that, to grow and develop in this profession, it is vital to love people. Helping patients must be the core motivation, and keeping in one’s mind that how you treat others has an effect on how you will be treated one day. “I believe that occupations and titles are fleeting, yet the most important is to stay human in any situation.”
WHO supports nurses in challenging circumstances
Amid the war, Ukrainian health care workers like Khrystyna are showing resilience and courage while caring for their patients. WHO continues to be committed to supporting nurses and other health professionals in Ukraine and across the Region, many of whom are carrying out their duties in challenging circumstances.
Earlier this year, WHO/Europe convened a regional meeting in Bucharest urging political leaders to act on their promises to support and invest in health workers everywhere. The Bucharest Declaration, adopted there, calls for political action to improve working conditions and support all health workers’ mental health, among other issues.
This story has been developed with the financial support of the European Union (EU) as part of the WHO and EU initiative on health system strengthening in Ukraine.