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Life of a Ukrainian Civilian During War

Serge AMay 19, 2022 (0)

To sum things up - it's pretty hard, but you know that already. I wouldn't go so far as to say that things are horrible, but they're certainly not easy. A disclaimer: I'm not talking about occupied territories such as the horror-filled Bucha and Mariupol, or cities such as Melitopol and Kherson, which were captured early in the conflict.

This article looks at cities under Ukrainian control.

For more, please see the From the Front section of JetsForUkraine. 

Medical Care

A typical line at a pharmacy early in the war.

Medical care is still available. In the cities that were spared major shelling and destruction, you can still get an MRI and a blood test. Hospitals are prioritizing injured soldiers, and people understand that except in cases of emergency they are to stay away from hospitals. Private clinics are performing elective surgeries, and the only barrier is cost. Ukraine subsidizes medical care, so hospitals are free, but clinics function as separate businesses. Pharmacies are open and are stocked with everyday supplies such as Ibuprofen, but shortages exist for medicines that need to be imported either because Ukraine doesn't produce them or because Ukrainian versions are less effective or risk bad side effects.

Consider hormone therapy. The Chernobyl tragedy left many Ukrainians with thyroid problems that need to be treated with hormones. The Ministry of Health set up a hotline, but the government has yet to distribute the medicine for free, although pharmacies, 82 days later, seem to have a good supply on sale at high prices.

Diabetics also are having a difficulty obtaining medicine. More than 10% of Ukrainians suffer from diabetes, and Type I and sometimes Type II diabetics require insulin. I live in Ukraine, and I suffer from Type 1. I need insulin to live. Insulin comes in two main forms - basal and bolus. Basal insulin keeps blood sugar steady throughout day and night, whereas bolus insulin smooths out blood sugar spikes accompanying mealtime. When the war started, insulin dependent people like me were talking about the lack of insulin in Telegram groups. For a month or more, there was no insulin for sale. Think about that - I need insulin every day, at least six times a day, and I can't get it. I starved for five straight days before I got my hands on some. Friends helped me to buy insulin. People from different cities and regions around Ukraine physically went to pharmacies and were able to procure one or two pens - whatever the pharmacies had left. People sent me shipments from all over the country. That's how I managed to stay alive. There was also an issue with glucose test strips - you couldn't get them either.

During this insulin shortage the Ministry of Health set up an 800 number so diabetics could get in line for their specific type of insulin. There are different types and brands, and switching from one type to another and even one brand to another can cause serious side effects. Last time I switched it caused swelling. My body retained water like crazy. My endocrinologist warned me that this may happen in the first six months following the switch. There I was, faced with looking for alternatives to the type and brand that I was taking, only to find out that the only insulin that is available for Ukrainians now is Polish and Ukrainian and none of which are glargine - the type of insulin I need. Furthermore, people complain that Ukrainian made insulin can cause blindness and kidney failure, and too many have suffered from it to consider using it again.

When I called the 800 number, an operator asked if I had ever gotten insulin from the government for free. I said no, because I was always able to pay for it. But now, my money is no good – there just isn't any of the insulin I need. At the end of our conversation the woman was almost in tears. At that point, it dawned on me that my situation really was life-threatening, and it was at that point when my Ukrainian friends went to work collecting insulin for me from all corners of the country.

Today, my brand of insulin is still not available.


A typical line at the pump station after almost 90 days at war.

Ukraine is suffering from gasoline shortages. The Russian army decided to hit Ukraine exactly where Ukraine hit Russia during the early blitzkrieg. At that time, the Ukrainian army was tracking Russian gasoline tankers and taking them out from the air. After all, how good is a tank without fuel? Two months later the Russians started doing the same to Ukrainians, targeting fuel refineries and storage depots. Now, of course, the military is prioritized, while civilians need to stand in line for hours. Some endure a five-hour wait, only to discover that gasoline has run out. The last time I went to get fuel, I stayed in a line about 550 meters long, which I calculated was about 93 cars. At the rate of seven minutes for a fill up - the maximum you can get is twenty liters, about five gallons - while four pumps are working, it would have taken me more than four hours to stand a chance at getting gas. In some cases, people have waited in line for hours, only to turn away to get back home before the 11 pm curfew. And then, there is the price. When gas is available at the big chain gas stations, you pay around five bucks a gallon. This is not news to U.S. and Canadian residents. The question here is can you handle the line? If you're willing to pay more for a shorter line with the same 20-liter limit, you need to go to a generic gas station where the price is $7.30 per gallon.


Supermarket shelves at a local chain of Ukrainian supermarkets.

Thankfully, food is in abundance. A few brands are missing from the shelves, but others have taken their place. The only downside is that like gasoline, food prices have risen by about 20 to 30%, in part because of foreign currency. Most products sold in Ukraine are tied to the U.S. dollar. Real estate prices are quoted in dollars, and so are cars. Food is no different.


Utility bills remain unchanged. But the government controls utility companies, and in due time, market forces and lobbyists may lead to higher prices for electricity. 

This is the basic rundown of what war has done to this country, and this doesn't even take into consideration the bombing and shelling, the fighter jet flybys and news about the Russian army taking this village or that and Ukrainians taking another back. There are burials and tears for those fallen to Russian aggression. There are ruins where cities once stood, and people injured and homeless who once thrived. Pet owners who died or fled have left behind dogs and cats to roam the streets. Pain and suffering are everywhere, at every level of existence. But we believe, we really truly believe, in our armed forces. That's about as far as your imagination can stretch living in Ukraine at this point in the war.

Serge A is of Ukrainian descent, grew up in Brooklyn and is volunteering in Ukraine as a legally armed member of a Territorial Defense Group. He was a columnist for the newspaper at Pace University which he attended as an undergrad. 


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