A group of 20 Ukrainian medical students, whose training was thrown into turmoil by the Russian invasion, are now beginning clinical placements at local NHS trusts.
The students from Kharkiv - which was attacked on the first day of the conflict and has seen fierce fighting - will learn vital skills at the University of Cambridge (UoC) School of Clinical Medicine, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT), Addenbrooke's and Royal Papworth Hospitals.
CPFT honorary consultant in child and adolescent psychiatry and UoC School of Clinical Medicine clinical dean Dr Paul Wilkinson said: "Colleagues have worked incredibly hard to get this programme up and running in a short space of time. This is action-orientated; it’s about packing as much as possible into seven weeks."
During the seven-week programme they will join experts in surgical and medical specialties, and receive mentoring, supervision and bedside teaching from doctors to help them further progress at Kharkiv National Medical University, and support Ukraine’s health service.
One of the students, Serhii Alkhimov, who as a man needed special permission to leave Ukraine, spent four months living and treating people in a packed underground train station in Kharkiv.
He was awarded a medal by President Volodymyr Zelensky.
(From left) Vira Lavryk, Kateryna Ausheva, Zaur Badalov and Serhii Alkhimov.
Picture: University of Cambridge
Serhii said: "I had military medical experience, so it wasn’t as hard for me as it might have been, but I didn’t get a lot of sleep. Most of the people I treated had chronic illnesses and couldn’t get help anywhere else. I was glad to help, and save two or three lives."
Another, Vira Lavryk, fled Kharkiv after it was attacked, travelling to her hometown in the south of Ukraine, before travelling to Portugal for a hospital placement.
Vira said: "Kharkiv was attacked on the first day of the invasion, in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening – hour after hour. My mum told me to come home, which was safe for a while, but then my hometown was invaded and occupied by Russia. I was so scared and it left a mark on me that I will never forget.
“It is my ambition to specialise in medicine and become a surgeon. Cambridge is a higher level of education, so coming here even for a short-term placement is a dream for me.”
Student Zaur Badalov helped to treat injured soldiers and civilians in Ukraine. After a few weeks, Zaur, who grew up in Kharkiv, moved with his family to the west of Ukraine, where he was able to continue studies online and treat the injured arriving at local hospitals from the east.
Zaur said: "I was staying at a hospital in Kharkiv on the day the invasion happened; I was the first one to notice the windows shaking and woke the others. We were all in shock, and then that morning we had injured people coming into the hospital needing help.
"I learned a lot helping with the cases, and seeing how the doctors treated people. Now I have a big opportunity to learn new methods of treatment in Cambridge – medicine in the UK is world class – and take this knowledge and these skills back to Ukraine and pass them on to others."
The students are in their final two years of medical training but the war and COVID-19 meant most learning over the past two-and-a-half years was online. The students will receive a learning portfolio to support their continuing medical training with Kharkiv National Medical University.
Kharkiv National Medical University Students’ Mobility Coordinator Daria Shliakhova said: "We really need good doctors with good practical skills, who can help our people and save their lives. It’s a priority, to prepare and give our students all the best we can, and so the clinical placements in Cambridge are very important."
The University of Cambridge is co-ordinating the programme, travel and living expenses are funded by biotechnology company, Illumina, and accommodation by an anonymous donor. Homerton College, where the students will stay, will provide opportunities to socialise and relax.
University of Cambridge vice-chancellor Professor Stephen J Toope said: "This partnership between universities and hospitals demonstrates the importance of international co-operation, and it shows Cambridge’s unwavering commitment to helping Ukraine's higher education sector at this time of crisis.”
The medical placements are part of ‘Cambridge University Help for Ukraine’, a developing package of support announced by the University earlier this year.