Teams with the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are supporting people who’ve been forced to flee to Russia amid the war in Ukraine.
As the UN estimates that the conflict has forced more than 10 million people in Ukraine to cross borders into neighboring countries since late February—with almost a quarter of them crossing into Russia—MSF is helping to provide medical care, including care for chronic diseases, HIV treatment, and mental health.
Facilitating medical care
Many of the 2.4 million people displaced to Russia by the conflict are in the south of the country, including the regions of Voronezh, Rostov-on-Don, and Belgorod. MSF teams in Voronezh are working with local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to support the distribution of emergency relief items, including food and medical and hygiene supplies.
Since May, MSF has been partnering with local organizations to run a telephone hotline for displaced people where they can get information on health issues and legal advice on obtaining the documents needed to receive free health care in Russia. With the help of local organizations, social workers, and health care providers, MSF teams have facilitated access to existing medical care for approximately 500 displaced people with chronic diseases and other medical conditions, including cardiovascular, endocrinological, neurological, oncological, and orthopedic conditions.
Providing mental health support
The conflict has taken a heavy psychological toll on people forced to flee their homes, often resulting in feelings of loss and anxiety about their future. In addition, many families have been cut in two by the conflict; close relatives often find themselves on different sides of the frontline and no longer speaking to each other.
Seeing the level of mental health needs—including high levels of anxiety, distress, sleeping problems, panic attacks, psychosomatic conditions, and depression—MSF teams are providing psychological counseling sessions.
“As a medical humanitarian organization, MSF is committed to working alongside existing systems to respond to the medical humanitarian needs of populations affected by the conflict,” said Nicolas Peissel, MSF emergency manager.
Ensuring access to HIV medicines
In St. Petersburg and Moscow, MSF has scaled up the assistance it has been providing since 2020 and has partnered with organizations to ensure that displaced people living with HIV can continue to access their lifesaving antiretroviral medicines. For many, the conflict has disrupted their treatment.
Natalya*, a former health worker, recently came to the medical unit of the Russian NGO Humanitarian Action in St. Petersburg—one of the organizations MSF is partnering with—to collect her antiretrovirals. She was displaced from Slavyansk in eastern Ukraine, first to western Ukraine and then to Poland. Since before the start of the conflict she has cared for a patient paralyzed with a spinal injury. She decided to move with him to Russia so that she could have support from the patient’s father, who lives in St. Petersburg.
Natalya recently tested positive for HIV. Humanitarian Action receives support from MSF to provide Natalya and others like her with a three-month supply of antiretrovirals while helping them to integrate into the state health care system.
“I don’t even know how I got [HIV],” Natalya said. “Perhaps I got infected because I worked in a medical facility. I just dream that next year, in the spring, we can be back home in Slavyansk.”
*Name has been changed to protect identity.