Extending Care to All Ukrainians

September 22, 2022

Dr. Avery Hart, far left, was one of dozens of medical volunteers who worked with Ukrainian refugees at the JDC -NATAN clinic in Przemyśl, Poland.


When Dr. Avery Hart first heard the news coming out of Ukraine in late February, he knew he had to help.

A retired internist from Skokie, Illinois, Hart quickly sought out an organization that could use his skills and landed on NATAN Relief Worldwide — the Israeli NGO that connects volunteers with people impacted by natural and man-made disasters and which has partnered with JDC since the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Within a week, he was on the ground in Przemyśl, a Polish city less than 10 miles from the border with Ukraine, working at the JDC-NATAN medical clinic housed inside a massive refugee absorption center there.

The JDC-NATAN medical clinic served 20,000 clients in the first six months of the Ukraine crisis alone.

Like other volunteers, Hart was stationed for two weeks at the clinic, the first of its kind in the area. In those early days of the Ukraine crisis, when the flurry of refugees streaming over the border was at its peak, he and his team saw anywhere from a few hundred to as many as 5,000 people in a single day — men, women, and children with ailments like high blood pressure, dehydration, and complications from chronic conditions they had left untreated as they fled.

For Hart, certain cases were hard to shake: the woman from Mariupol who desperately needed thyroid medicine no longer available in her besieged city, the diabetic elderly gentleman with insulin five times the normal level, the patient in kidney failure who had gone days without dialysis.

“Obviously, from a medical point of view, we’re trained as professionals to keep moving and not get weighed down too much,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s inevitable that you think about what these folks were experiencing.

Since March, the clinic — which features an improvised pharmacy and the ability to conduct ultrasound scans of pregnant women, among other critical medical interventions — has treated 20,000 refugees.

It’s just one of the many non-sectarian efforts spearheaded by JDC today as it leverages more than a century of experience responding to global crises and a special expertise in bringing medical support to areas in need.

“The moment the Ukraine emergency happened, we knew that we had a vital role to play in JDC’s response,” said Avital Sandler-Loeff, executive director of JDC’s disaster relief and international development arm. “With our decades of crisis relief experience and deep understanding of how to be effective during the most tenuous and complex emergency situations, we knew there was a great need for the type of quality non-sectarian intervention that JDC could offer.”

JDC worked to meet the needs of refugees in countries like Poland and Bulgaria, where it partnered with a local company to introduce Israeli telemedicine devices to local doctors, enabling them to virtually connect with Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking doctors located hours away who could properly diagnose and provide care for refugee children.

And its initiatives also extended into Ukraine itself.

In partnership with the Israeli government and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, JDC helped establish a field hospital in Lviv, the western Ukrainian city that emerged as a hub for internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees looking to cross the border.

“The moment the Ukraine emergency happened, we knew that we had a vital role to play in JDC’s response.”

The hospital included separate wards for children and adults, an emergency room, a delivery room, and a primary care clinic, also hosting telemedicine training for doctors there. The only facility of its kind in Ukraine, it treated more than 6,000 people in a single month.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, JDC provided assistive devices like wheelchairs and crutches to Kyiv and Odesa residents injured during the conflict.

Other JDC non-sectarian interventions included telemedicine technology and the shipment of medical supplies to Ukraine and border countries.

As the crisis evolves, JDC is looking ahead to the possibility of providing prosthetics to new amputees and expanding its support to hospitals across Ukraine by offering additional training to medical professionals.

Through it all, the organization is driven by a desire to help people who find themselves in harm’s way — like Stefania Pani, 83, a grandmother who arrived at the refugee center in Przemyśl after fleeing Ukraine and sought treatment at the JDC-NATAN clinic for a complex leg wound.

After a period of time where she’d visit the clinic twice a day to have her dressing changed, Pani was eventually well enough to be discharged and was given temporary shelter at a nearby convent, where another volunteer doctor now supervises her recovery under the guidance of JDC-NATAN.

“I thought I was left alone, that I didn’t know what to do, but then you came to me,” Pani said of the care she received. “I will pray for you every night, and I’ll remember you for the rest of my life.”

For Hart, the feeling is mutual — he considers himself transformed by his experience in Poland and is committed to celebrating the inspiring power of a humanitarian response fueled by Jewish values.

“It’s about a broad generosity of spirit and a readiness to pitch in and help people that are in need anywhere,” he said. “JDC does this work with a Jewish foundation and with Jewish people, and in the process, shows the world what Judaism is really about.”

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