On February 24th, Dr. Vladyslava Kachkovska’s life was turned upside down. After enduring a harrowing two weeks as Russian troops bombarded Sumy, she managed to escape with her two-year-old daughter and mother—but her husband stayed back to fight. Dr. Vladyslava is a rheumatologist, bioethicist, and associate professor of internal medicine at Sumy State University.
Listen to the latest episode of All Inclusive as Dr. Vladyslava shares what it was like being a doctor as the war broke out, her journey crossing the border to Poland, and what life is like now as a refugee.
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Please find a transcription of this episode here.
All Inclusive is a production of The Ruderman Family Foundation. This show is produced by Yochai Maital, Jackie Schwartz, Mijon Zulu, and Matt Litman.
Dr. Vladyslava is a rheumatologist, bioethicist, and associate professor of internal medicine at Sumy State University. Two weeks after the Ukraine-Russia war broke out, she escaped with her two-year-old daughter and mother to Poland, where she is currently living as a refugee.
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Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: 1-234-567-8910 Jay Do you hear me well?
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Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: Probably I was so bound to the medicine and to saving human lives and for helping people that I couldn’t imagine that I could be better in something else.
Jay Ruderman: And today on our show: Vladyslava Kachkovska
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: When we woke up on the 24th of February, at five o’clock in the morning, under the sounds of sirens, and we understood that that is a real life. That is a war.
Jay Ruderman: Dr. Kachkovska is a rheumatologist and bioethicist. She is an associate Professor of internal medicine at the Sumy State University, in Ukraine. She enjoys ballet, and gardening, watching quiz shows and singing lullabies to her two year old daughter. But on the 24th of february her life was turned upside down.
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: I have never been so scared before. But you know, that’s very moment, you’re absolutely abstracted from yourself. You stop being a woman, a physician, a bioethicist, you become a robot – main goal, main task to save your child.
Jay Ruderman: After enduring a harrowing two weeks – Sumy being cut off and bombarded by the Russian forces, she managed to escape with her daughter and mother. Eventually they made their way to Poland, where she went right back to work as a doctor. But her husband stayed back to fight.
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: Jay, I have a feeling that I like, not a complete person, you know, that half of me is there in Ukraine. And, there are different families. There are different relations. But we had amazing family life.
Jay Ruderman: This is not our usual episode, but as long as these atrocities keep taking place in Ukraine, we feel compelled to keep up our coverage. When I ask the Ukrainian people I have been in touch with – “what can be done to help?” they invariably come back with the same response – spread the news, tell our story. So today we are going to do just that.
Jay: So Dr. Vladyslava Kachkovska, I want to thank you for being my guest today on All-Inclusive. I know that this is such a difficult time in your country and Ukraine. And I just want to express my condolences and I’m so sorry for what is happening in your country at this time.
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: Jay, thank you so much for invitation, for your desire to hear the truth and thank you for the prayer condolences.
Jay: I know this is going to be a difficult discussion and I appreciate you willing to go through the discussion with me. But I think it’s important that the world hear from people like you , from a doctor from Ukraine, that lived in the war zone and what’s happening right now in your country.
I think the more voices that can be out there the more that people will identify with what’s happening. Can you take us back to the time before the war broke out, where you were living, how you were feeling and what was life like in your city?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: My city which is not big. It’s less than half a million people . It is situated 20 kilometers from the Russian border. Since 2014, when the first military action started in my country, which were initiated by Russians. All this time, all these eight years, we were leaving under the threat of war.
But you know, that, human being, they used to adapt to the conditions which are around. We packed our security backpacks many years ago. We were ready to escape any moment. Just our family situation, it was complicated by the fact that we have a little child, our little Emma, who is two-years-old now. So we were sincerely afraid and our primary goal was to protect how the little girl.
As a physician, I constantly work with patients every day. I was repeatedly asked by my patients. Like, “Do I really need to start my treatment if the war is going to begin tomorrow?” Honestly, no one believed that it could start it really.
And when we woke up on the 24th of February, at five o’clock in the morning under the sounds of sirens , we understood that that is a real life. That is a war.
Jay: I understand that you are from the city of Sumy. And before the war broke out, you were working as a doctor in a hospital. Can you tell us what type of medicine you practiced?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: Yes. Sure. I’m rheumatologist. And also I work as a tutor for medical students at the medical university in Sumy. And, also, I’m partly bioethicist and I continue my education now through the master online program at the Loyola Chicago University. Also I’m involved in the scientific work.
So the fields of my activities is pretty wide. Now I’m sitting here so far away from my home. And I so missed that feeling to be tired of that routine work, which I had every day.
Jay: Can you tell a little bit about yourself, about why you decided to become a doctor?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: It is a very easy story. I grew up in the family of physicians. When I was a little child, I was spending nights on night duties with my mother. It was difficult for me to imagine something else. When I was a little child, I remember that our family dinners was discussion of difficult clinical cases. My mother and father. Probably I was so bound to the medicine and to saving human lives and for helping people that I couldn’t imagine that I could be better in something else.
Jay: And I think our listeners should know that you have an extensive resume with many different accomplishments as a doctor. Do you have a partner, a husband?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: Yes, I have my lovely husband and he’s in Ukraine now.
Jay: I’m sure this is such a difficult situation for you, but tell me what happened on the 24th of February. When the war broke out, tell us about that day and the days after that.
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: Yes, sure. we woke up on the 24th of February in the morning. I was the first one. I heard the sounds of sirens and understood that the war has started and the first feeling was I have never been so scared before. But you know that very moment you absolutely obstructed from yourself. You stop being a woman or physician, a bioethicist, you become a robot. Main goal, main task to save your child. But fear didn’t exist for a long time. Second mental stage was hatred and anger. When I saw on the first day of the war, how Russian military tanks moving through the streets of my pretty, calm, self-convenient and comfy town. When I saw how the Russian military troops just walking by the streets and parks, where we usually have our family promenades. That feeling, anger, and hatred, it was very new for me because all my life I’ve been working as a physician with a primary goal to save human lives and to save human dignity. So I was trying to work with that feelings, but unfortunately they are persistent.
Next, I was trying to do something. In the first hours, in the first day of the war, I was receiving hundreds of messages from my colleagues all over the world, from Europe, from the United States, with their wishes to help, with words of support. So we were trying to organize humanitarian supplies but, unfortunately, our city was surrounded by Russian military and they have weapons all around and the city was completely blocked, approximately for two weeks. And, every hour try to deliver drugs, medicines, some things which our military needs. Even when we’re trying to do that with the help of red cross vehicles. But you know, the next feeling which I felt was extreme care and union of people inside of the country and of our friends from abroad. I was keeping myself busy with all these activities, with coordinating logistics, with helping online consultations And continue to do so even I’m abroad now.
Jay: Did you yourself or any of your patients or friends have any interaction with Russian soldiers when they entered into your city?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: My neighbor, and actually, my patient, he was prisoned by Russian military. He was defense of our city and the Russian troops took him. But it was at the very beginning of the war and, thanks God, he was the first one who got under the exchange between Ukrainian and Russian military.
So he was changed for some Russian soldiers. He told us that this war had been preparing for very long time. They had many Russians inside of the city. Some of them were working in the administrative buildings, in our local governments. So they were ready, but they didn’t expect that the people will stand so strong and will be opposite to their actions. So that was actually only one experience. I have many patients who now are soldiers in our army, but I’m trying not to ask any questions which could hurt them.
Jay: Right, right. After the war started. And I know the whole world is looking on with admiration for the bravery of the Ukrainian people and the sacrifice that is being made at this time. Were there any experiences with electricity being cut off, shelling of the city, shortages of food? What was life like there?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: I wasn’t in the town that time already, but my father my grandmother, my husband, they were there. And, they brought heavy attacks on our power station.
The city was absolutely cut off of the electricity, simultaneously cut off from the water. And, it was a pretty cold weather outside, so, people simultaneously didn’t have gas supply. Our city was blocked for two weeks, but, fortunately, for that period of time, people had enough food and water to survive. Fortunately, we had much better situations than other cities such as Kharkiv or Mariupol.
Jay: You made the decision at some point to leave with your daughter, Emma and to leave the hospital. Can you tell us about that decision and how you were able to leave your city?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: Probably it was one of the toughest decision. At night, approximately 11:00 PM, Russian rockets hit the house on the street, which is close to us and, whole family with three kids of different age died at one moment. That was probably the moment when we decide that we need to move because we were very scared. And that is a small town. Everyone knows each other. You know the people who know that family. You know their relatives and that was actually what we were afraid of.
After that, Ukrainian administration, during the negotiation with the enemy parts, they decided to open humanitarian corridors from our city. We moved to the western parts of Ukraine. We stayed there for couple of days. And we heard the news that the enemy preparing the attacks from the site of Belarus and it was again, pretty close to us. So we didn’t believe that they would stop the war. And at that time, I got several offers from European universities and we decided to move in Europe for a couple of months, I hope.
Jay: Were you able to leave by bus or by train?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: By my car.
Jay: And did you leave just with you and your daughter?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: We left with my daughter and with my mother.
Jay: And how long did the journey take you to leave from your city to get to safety?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: In general, that trip took two days. The scariest moment was to cross the border of Sumy region. That was this scariest part because we have these military hours. We can’t move on the streets after the 10 or after the eight. It depends on the region. So approximately two days, and then two more days, while we were moving to Europe.
Jay: So let me ask you on your two-day journey. What was it like? Where did you stop at night? Did people help you along the way?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: We have that feeling of amazing unity now in Ukrainian society. And it was not a problem at all. People are giving their rooms in their houses.We have many friends who were already in different points in Ukraine. So, while we were driving, we were just connected and I was receiving a lot of invitations, much more than we could handle at the time.
Jay: And which border did you end up crossing?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: It was Ukrainian/Poland border. Imagine a long line from hundreds of cars which are driven by men to the point of border and then men just went out of the car. They kiss their wives, kids, pets, and they are going back in Ukraine by foot. I was looking at that emotions and I was supposing, they saying goodbye to each other and they don’t know when they will meet again. I think it was one of that moment when I see this huge tragedy in our society.
Jay: I can’t even imagine the emotions and being torn away from people that you love. And I understand, from the news, that men are not allowed to leave and are required to stay and fight in Ukraine. How has that been for you, to say goodbye and to see him stay there when you were able to go to safety?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: Jay. I have a feeling that I like not a complete person. You know? That half of me are there in Ukraine. And, there are different families. There are different relations. But we had amazing family life.
We had our everyday dinners. We were gathering together and discussing our days, playing with our little Emma, we built up a perfect schedule with a two-years-old child. We were enjoying of each other. And we were helping each other and substitute with different activities. As every woman, I can handle everything by myself, but, I so miss him. I miss our usual family life.
Jay: Are you able to stay in touch with him?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: Yes, thanks God we having the opportunity to communicate every day.
Jay: And how has Emma been able to handle this situation. Does she ask for her father? She’s only two-years-old, but does she have any understanding of what’s going on?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: I’m happy about the fact that Emma’s perception for two years old child is like, we are traveling and we are having a vacation. I will, when she will be much more conscious, I will tell her for sure every detail about this horrible war. Now, thanks God, she seems happy, but every evening we had a family tradition before Emma was going to bed.
We were gathering together singing songs. [SFX Lullabye sample one]Lullabies with my husband and Emma’s father, and she’s very bound to him. Just before the interview, I received a question from her. Like “Where is my father?” I’m starting to lose myself in answering her “Where is he?” because I don’t know how to explain to two-years-old child why our father is not with us. [SFX Lullabye sample two]
Jay: So difficult. I can’t even imagine what you’re going through right now. Have you relocated yourself for the time being in Poland?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: We’re in Poland. As I told you, I got an invitation from the Warsaw Medical University. My colleagues here, they are very helpful. They are very caring. We stay here in the students’ hostel. We have a very tiny room for us three, but you know, still didn’t need to hide in the shelters and we didn’t hear the sounds of sirens and I’m happy that my child is safe.
But, Jay, my biggest wish is to come back home.
Jay: Are you able to practice medicine in Poland right now? Are you able to continue with your career in the meantime?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: Yes, Jay. I’m able to do this. Now many governments in many European countries open such possibilities for Ukrainian physician, especially if you worked, preliminary, in the medical institute. Because of some language barrier, I understand Polish language, but, unfortunately, I can’t speak it fluently.
So, I joined the English division for English speaking students, and I’m able to continue to practice medicine because, currently in Poland, there are many Ukrainian people. So most of my patients, they are Ukrainian and they speak Ukrainian or Russian.
Jay: So are you practicing in your field? Or are you helping in all different types of medicine for Ukrainians that are now displaced?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: Yes, I’m trying to do my best because I understand that in this situation, I’m in better position. At this time I can help my people. Any medical help with consultations, with directions, with drug supplies. Everything that I can do, I’m doing that.
Jay: Do you know, Dr. Kachkovska what’s the situation in the hospital where you were working in Sumy before you left?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: I’m in a close contact with all my friends or colleagues who stayed there and we got good news that the hospital will start work tomorrow. It will be opened. So, I suppose that they would have a limited profile, mostly working with, we have now many wounded soldiers by the way, from Ukrainian and Russian sides.
So I know that my colleagues are treating Russian soldiers as well. We also resume to work of our university in the online format.
I continue to work with my students probably since last week. So they are trying to get back to life and to bring back to life our students, our colleagues, our country in general.
Jay: So you know, there’s some good news that the hospital’s operating, there’s some positive news, despite the fact that you have lost people that you knew personally during the war. I think it’s important to note that, on a humanitarian level, Ukrainians are helping Russian soldiers who are being wounded because we see pictures of Russians, of their army, leaving them behind. It sounds from what you’re telling me that Ukrainian medical system has stepped up and has decided to take a very humanitarian approach to people who’ve been hurt in this terrible war.
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: Yes, it is so, Jay, and I think it should be so. It is an ethical approach. It is a common morality which should exist.
Jay: I commend you on that.
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: Our experience, our horrible experience, showed that what the Russian soldiers are doing in our cities, in our towns, with civilian people, it means, I suppose, that they have inner hatred to our people. Today, picture where Russian soldiers left the inscription on the wall and they wrote “It’s all for you because you have a wealthy life.” So I can’t even imagine what are the feelings and what are the thoughts inside of their heads to do that cruelty what they are doing now.. I can’t explain that.
There are some rules. There should be some morality. If you want to invade other territory, do it with the army. Don’t kill the civilians. More than 200 children are dying now at the moment.
Jay: What do you think that we can do, those of us that are in The West, in Europe, in the United States, around the world, what can we do to help the situation and Ukraine today?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: Jay, Thank you for your wish to help and we asking you for informational support to let all the world know what is really going on. I was listening yesterday the interview of Bisco Russian speaker with a British journalist and it’s complete nonsense. So we do sincerely appreciate the honest information about what is really going on in our country. Now the war has turned into genocide from all those pictures, which you probably can see from the key regions, from the small towns. It’s a horrible things going on.
And, also, we are asking the world to support us. We need care and help. We need help to support our strong army. I suppose that our army is standing now not only for Ukraine. They are standing for the whole world for the peace in all Europe. Please support them.
Jay: Thank you. So do you think that in the near future, you’ll go back to Sumy? When do you think it will be safe to make that trip back?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: As soon we get official documents, which will be signed for peace. As soon as we will hear that the war stopped, we are ready to go back home. It is very difficult to wait. I have night dreams about my beautiful house. I’m a gardener.
I have my small plants so I’m dreaming to go back and it’s the season already started. I’m missing it. So I’m waiting for the official announcement. And, as soon as we will hear it, we will go back to Ukraine.
Jay: I want to say I’m so sorry for what you’ve gone through on a personal level, you and Emma and your husband, and that your lives have been upended. But also for all of your friends and neighbors who’ve lost their lives through the invasion of your country. I pray and I hope that things will become better.
And I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to tell us and to tell the world your personal story of what happened to you. Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you feel like you want to say, something I left out?
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: Jay, since you believe in God and I know that he’s great and he sees everything. We pray for the victory and we pray for this nightmare for my people to be ended soon.
Jay: So powerful. I just want to wish you and your family health and safety and for all the people of Ukraine. I hope that you’ll be able to return home soon and get back to gardening and all those things that you love in life. And that Emma will grow up in a peaceful country. Thank you so much for being with us today on All-Inclusive.
Dr Vladyslava Kachkovska: Thank you so much for inviting, Jay. Have a good day. Oh, I’m sorry. We don’t say Good Day now. Now we are saying have a peaceful day.
Jay: You too. Yes. Have a peaceful day. Thank you.
Jay Ruderman [outro]:
All Inclusive is a production of The Ruderman Family Foundation. This show is produced by Yochai Maital, Jackie Schwartz, and Matt Litman. If you enjoyed this episode, please check out all of our previous conversations. Look up, “All Inclusive” wherever you get your podcasts. As always, if you have an idea for a guest or just want to share your thoughts, I’d love to hear from you. You can tweet me – @jayruderman, or email us at: email@example.com
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