Eight people who contribute to a better future with daily efforts share their stories, motivation and perspective of the future
Stories of people who build the future on a daily basis
Astereotypical image of a Ukrainian public servant's office conjures a room with the president's portrait on the wall, gold-covered souvenirs and a luxurious office chair. Oleksandr Danyliuk's office at the Health Care Ministry has little to do with this stereotype. The small room hosts two employees. Each has a desk, a chair and a computer. Oleksandr's desk is easy to spot. The entire wall behind his desk is covered with photos and flags: from Maidan on one side, and from the war in the Donbas on the other side. In between is the Ukrainian flag covered with hand-scribbled lines. “This is the flag of our medical squad at Brigade 128. Everyone signed it. The flag traveled across the entire frontline, although it avoided the Debaltseve pocket. We just forgot it when we rushed there,” Oleksandr says. “Of course, we were taking really good care of the flag, that's why it's not damaged. Three of the people who signed it no longer live.” The pictures on the wall behind his desk feature people and surgeries Oleksandr did on the frontline. “This is the longest surgery in my life,” he points at one. “It lasted 12 hours but ended well. The person I did it for is already able to walk.”
Then Oleksandr points to a photo of Vadym Svyrydenko, a frontline medic who lost all his limbs. “He had some of the most difficult injuries I've seen,” Oleksandr says.
From all the photographs, only one has nothing to do with the war or the Maidan. It features a mountain hike. “Mountains are my hobby. I once had a dream to go to the Pamir Mountains. Now, I struggle to find time to walk across the Carpathians.”
In the fall of 2016, Oleksandr accepted the offer to join the new team of the Health Care Ministry led by Dr. Ulana Suprun. “Ulana convinced me. I spent a lot of time explaining to her why I was saying ‘no'. But she found effective arguments to persuade me to say ‘yes'. I kept telling her that I'm not a professional civil servant, that I can't do something, or don't know how to do things. She told me that “professionals” had been running Ukraine's health care for 25 years. And what was the result? Maybe, it was time for the young and untainted to get down to this work, she said? It made me think that we have to be responsible for the changes we launched during the revolution. Thanks to the team, to everyone around here, I agreed to join the ministry. We've been together for three years. That was the main thing that convinced me,” Oleksandr shares. When asked whether it was difficult to switch from a surgeon's table to a public servant's desk, he smiles: “I didn't switch completely. I still do surgeries. Civil servants are allowed to do that. I don't like the ministry work. But I realize how important it is: it has already brought some success. Not on the global scale yet; nobody really feels their impact directly. But there is progress.”
As a surgeon, Oleksandr went to the frontline twice: from August 2014 through September 2015 as partof the Armed Forces, and in August 2016 as a volunteer. Over those periods, he worked in the hottest frontline zones, including Stanytsia Luhanska, Shchastia,
Avdiyivka, and Debaltseve during the most difficult stage there in January-February 2015. Today, his desk is filled with piles of papers.
“I came here from the volunteer pool, took up responsibility and joined a central executive entity. It's easier to do all this as a volunteer. You are not restricted with bureaucracy. Here, it takes a lot of time to get a document passed that could later be implemented with positive impact. This is a tough job but it must be done consistently. That's why it is important to engage volunteers in the executive branch. That's where they can be instrumental for the state, experience all the relevant processes and try to change things. It was much more convenient to spend time on Facebook writing how wrong everything is. When I came here, I realised how actually difficult and complex this work is. How long will this effort last? I don't know. But there is a handful of people here who care: everyone in our team was either on the frontline or in the volunteer movement. Even those who actually sit at this office are linked to the war in one way or another,” Oleksandr ponders as we talk about when the state will be able to perform the functions that are currently carried out by volunteers.
Oleksandr's tasks in his new office include coordination and organization of medical assistance on the frontline. In particular, he works with the Ministry of Defense on issues linked to the aid, evacuation and provision for the military, as well as medical aid in law enforcement entities overall. In addition to that, Oleksandr takes care of medical aid for the frontline villages and towns. “Civil health care there is in a disastrous condition given the ongoing fighting and the huge deficit of human and medical resources. Our task is to provide, coordinate and help frontline hospitals as much as possible since they are overloaded and work under very dangerous conditions,” he says. “We help doctors, nurses and volunteers from elsewhere in Ukraine to go on official work trips to these hospitals, thus supporting them. Plus, we work with international organizations and partner states to channel their donor resources to those facilities. And they show progress. Some frontline hospitals have outpaced some Kyiv hospitals in terms of improvements. They are doing renovations, bringing in new equipment. Of course, this is done mainly thanks to volunteers, but the state funds renovations at least,” Oleksandr says. He adds that the shortage of staff at such hospitals ranges from 40 to 70%. Volunteer doctors cover 5-10% in various hospitals.
Oleksandr says that his biggest success in his new office is the launch of a campaign to supply every serviceman with state-funded modern medical kits based on NATO standards. Such kits have been available on the frontline for a while now, but mainly thanks to the efforts of volunteers. Not all military had access to them.
When Oleksandr talks about his work at the ministry, he avoids discussing deadlines. “I didn't set any timeframes. I see things realistically,” he says. “Unfortunately, we had 22 health care ministers over 25 years in Ukraine. I realize perfectly well that we can be ousted anytime. It is not my goal to cling to this place just because I want to. Moreover, I'm a surgeon and I like my job. But we are now building the kind of the health care system that we would like to return to as doctors and patients in the future.”