• Pantemeinolivs’ka, 76, Odesa, Ukraine, 65000

Donor Email, Wk. 3: First Distributions!

Dear Donors,

Thank you for your generosity. It’s been a great week with lots of action in a variety of areas, but the most important news is that we’ve started our fist distributions! Of $1,239 collected so far, we’ve spent $630, receipts of which can be found on our website at the following link:

Of those, the two primary expenses are for the Odesa Paychiatric Hospital and for a distribution of hygiene kits to villages east of Mykolaiv, which will happen this coming Wednesday. I will keep you all updated of developments on that front. We also have projects rolling with Safe Refuge UA, which is developing an application to help displaced Ukrainians find safe points of aid in Odesa and elsewhere, and with partners in Germany who are hoping to establish a center of humanitarian aid distribution east of Mykolaiv. I will keep you updated on those as well!

The following is an email I sent summarizing our distribution on Saturday to the Odesa Psychiatric Hospital, which constituted about $280 of the total funds distributed so far.

The door is locked when we arrive. Locked in front of us, unlocked briefly for us to enter, and locked behind us again. For the individuals who inhabit this hospital, there is no exit, regardless of their mental capacity. The few staff who remain in each unit, those who have not gone to the front as soldiers or fled to other countries as refugees, are harried and overwhelmed. Their faces show signs of the many obstacles they face each day: uncooperative patients, uncooperative administrators, uncooperative budgets. In turn,  they treat their patients with some resembling exasperation. They know these people are suffering. But their suffering may be just as great, and it is certainly no less important for being of a different kind.

The first ward we visit is the gerontology ward. It is an all-female ward, where most seem to be affected by some sort of Alzheimer’s. Simple people, lives wrenched apart by time and death and now by war. They sit packed in a small dining room or sleep five to six in small bedrooms. There is no privacy. Some remain in their beds all day, on thin mattresses with only the simplest of food brought to them.

The next ward is darker, the air thicker. This is also entirely composed of female patients, but they seem to suffer from greater mental anguish. Instead of gathering in a dining hall, they are told instead to gather along the walls of the dark hallway while we hand out the cookies and pieces of fruit we are able to bring. They grasp at the little tokens like hungry animals, sometimes furtively glancing about before trying to take extra. One receives a slap on the shoulder for this cheeky behavior. We try to smile at them, to engage. Some respond, saying thank you with wide smiles or asking where we are from in strained Russian notes. Others avert their eyes and shuffle back to their rooms, obviously overwhelmed at the whole situation. The walls are cracked and the floor peeling, from what we can see in the dimly lighted space. The staff hurry us out before we can do anything more. They lock the door behind them.

The third ward is for males. Some are recently arrived from Kherson, we are told, and it appears to show both in their behavior and in their cramped living conditions. Here they sleep eight or ten to a room, locked away from their dining area. Most seem to rarely leave their beds, thin mattresses and thin blankets notwithstanding. One can imagine that they suffer from ailments like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other active psychoses, though we are never informed; some are talking extensively, some entirely unresponsive. They can get a bit cheeky as well at times and are duly punished, physically if the staff feel so inclined. We try not to comment, going from bed to bed with our paltry donations. Some of the men rise from bed when we leave their rooms and try to follow us, not so much for the food as for the novelty of it all. They speak in Russian or Ukrainian and we laugh and shake our heads. “Only English,” I say to one. He tries again. Afterward, in their small kitchen, we wash some apples to leave with the staff for later distribution. Old pots line the walls. The tap in one of the sinks has its head broken off, but it still functions. Cold water only, of course. One imagines that bathing must be a difficult affair in these places. Tin cups and tin plates seem to be the standard for serving, and though everything is kept clean, it shows the signs of years of use.

We depart. The door is locked behind us. Despite ourselves, we take deep breaths as we step out into the fresh air. We appreciate the opportunity to help. But we also know how fortunate we are to leave.


Gerontology ward

All-female ward

All-male ward

Thank you again for your support. I feel so privileged to be in Ukraine and to be meeting such wonderful people who are trying to help. Please reach out anytime with questions or suggestions. I remain ever yours,

Abe Collier

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