At the end of last week, a group of doctors from Hungary, led by András Spányik, founder of the MedSpot Foundation, visited Transcarpathia again. The team regularly travels to our county to provide medical assistance to the internally displaced persons living here at various locations.
At dawn on Saturday, MedSpot volunteers set off from Budapest to Transcarpathia in Ukraine for a two-day mission in an ambulance vehicle purchased with the special support of United Way Hungary to provide medical and mental health assistance to people displaced by the horrors of the Russian-Ukrainian war. At the first stop of their journey, in Uzhhorod (Ungvár), they met volunteer translators Natália Rizsenkova and Viktória Rácz-Balicka at the headquarters of the Heart to Heart Foundation (Серце до серця), and then provided immediate patient care at the refugee shelters they had agreed upon.
While we were waiting for the Hungarian medical team, Natália told us that they had been working together for 7 months.
„We already have regular patients at the shelters. Doctors examine them for various diseases and give advice. They also bring medicines and other necessities. We have a very good relationship with this team.”
Hungarian doctors come here on weekends. They finish their shift in the clinics on Friday and leave for Uzhhorod (Ungvár) at dawn on Saturday. On the eve of their visit, our volunteers contact the shelter managers to assess the need for the foreign doctors’ examinations. There are always many applicants. People want to be heard. They are far from home, many of them don’t even have houses anymore. It is important for them to be heard, to be able to say „I exist, I am here, in this world.” Someone may not have a serious physical problem or injury, but they may have a psychological one – says Natália, a volunteer of the Heart to Heart Foundation, who helps doctors and patients communicate as an interpreter.
Our conversation is interrupted by the sound of an ambulance, as Hungarian doctors arrive in the pouring rain. We ask their leader, András Spányik, about their mission:
„With the MedSpot (Medical Aid on the Spot) Foundation, we provide medical and other health and psychological assistance in situations of crisis or disaster. On the first day of the war, we thought we had to go and we started working with a mobile clinic in Beregsurány, which we were able to set up thanks to a donation from a private company, and we provided medical services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at the base of the Maltese Charity Service. Since the second day of the war, we have been involved in relief work. In the first period we were helping refugees crossing the border, on the Hungarian side.
Why did we decide to do this? We were all shocked by the images, by the news that this could happen in Europe in 2022, and we thought that what we could do to help was medical care. It was clear to everyone, the whole volunteer team, that we were going and we would help where we could. For months we were providing medical services at the border, then the situation changed, because fewer and fewer refugees were coming through from that direction. Since we had a lot of volunteer doctors who were willing to participate in further assistance, and we received so many donations – international, American, Japanese, but also from the Hungarian government – we decided to take these resources, these specialists, to where they were most needed. This is how we got in contact with the Heart to Heart Foundation” – András Spányik summerizes briefly.
A quick coffee, an impromptu discussion about further plans, and they are off to a refugee shelter in Uzhhorod (Ungvár), where more than 20 people have been living since March last year. There, in addition to the ambulance, a temporary medical care point is being set up in the building’s kitchen to examine all those in need, from a 2-year-old child to a woman aged 65, from Kharkiv, Donetsk and Kiev counties. A queue snakes down the corridor waiting for the consultation with the specialists.
The team’s pillar member is Tamás Albert from Miskolc, who works as a specialist nurse and ambulance station manager at the National Ambulance Service. He is the father of three children, his wife is of Transcarpathian origin and her siblings still live in Beregszász.
„In the week after the outbreak of the war, we were looking for an opportunity to see where we could help, so I found the MedSpot advertisement and by the first week of March last year I was already working at the Beregsurány aid centre. I perform the same nursing and assistant tasks that we do at home at work: taking blood pressure, taking ECGs, measuring blood sugar and other tests. As a father, the most shocking thing is when we meet injured, traumatized children. My team and I believe that in addition to medical and psychological assistance, it is also important to show solidarity and sympathy” – highlighted Tamás Albert.
Péter Garas, a doctor and child psychiatrist, said that he had previously worked with the foundation during the COVID epidemic, and also participated in the Beregsurány mission on the Ukrainian-Hungarian border.
„Our work was primarily focused on examining somatic, physical diseases, and I joined the mission in Ukraine as a continuation of this. This is my fourth visit in Transcarpathia. My primary task is to carry out physical medical examinations, but on the other hand, if someone has a psychological or mental problem, I take part in their psychiatric examination.”
Clinical psychologist Fruzsina Radnai visited Uzhhorod (Ungvár) for the first time. She works at Panoráma Polyclinic, where András Spányik and Péter Garas are her colleagues.
„I attend to children and adults, providing therapies and diagnostics on a daily basis. I have been following the events related to the war and the work of my colleagues for weeks and months, watching videos and hearing the reports, and I felt that I would really like to participate and help in any way I can. I was looking forward to coming myself. I have not worked with war traumatized children before, I have had similar experiences in my individual therapy work, but other than that this field is new. I have the theoretical knowledge, but the practice is just beginning” – she explains.
We didn’t hold up the team any longer, as they were impatiently awaited at the next refugee shelter in Uzhhorod (Ungvár), where they saw patients until late in the evening. On Sunday they went to Csaszlivci (Császlóc) in the Uzhhorod (Ungvár) district, where they met more refugees.
During the two days, more than 50 people were examined at 3 locations, provided with expert advice and free medicines. Many of them were children, including even a baby. There were those whom they had met several times before, but others were being seen for the first time. In a farewell video recorded after the classification and compiling of diagnoses, it was said that now the children’s problems were mostly the separation from their parents, the desire to see their father and the anxiety that they do not want to go back.
Almost all children suffer from upper respiratory tract symptoms: sore throat, runny nose, pneumonia. Adults have come to MedSpot volunteers with viral infections, high blood pressure, allergies, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, musculoskeletal problems, chronic illnesses, cardiovascular diseases. Volunteers were able to provide effective help not only on a therapeutic level, but also in the form of appropriate lifestyle and dietary advice. They do all this thanks to the great cooperation with the Heart to Heart Foundation and to the significant support they have received (HHH Hhhhungarian foundation, Prime Minister’s Office and Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
„The enthusiasm of our colleagues continues, we will be back soon!” – concluded András Spányik, medical director and founder of the MedSpot Foundation.