Director of children’s cancer foundation in Ukraine describes chaos of moving patients to safety

Travis Caldwell

The director of the largest children’s cancer foundation in Ukraine says an all-hands-on-deck effort from volunteers, doctors and officials in Ukraine and abroad has been needed to get children undergoing cancer treatment out of harm’s way during the Russian invasion.

Yuliya Nogovitsyna, director of program development at Tabletochki, told CNN on Wednesday that evacuating patients to western Ukraine — and then onward to bordering nations — “was a sort of ‘Mission: Impossible.'”

“From the very first days of the war, we tried to evacuate children from the biggest hospitals. We took them in rather large groups and we sought for either buses or train cars to bring them to Lviv,” Nogovitsyna said.
“It was very difficult and challenging because it was just near impossible to find any means of transport to move these kids.”

Many children were in “severe conditions,” Nogovitsyna said, some with low blood counts or fever. Ukrainian officials would help evacuate whenever possible by providing buses or transport, she said, “but every time it was an ad hoc situation and we had to find the solution.”

Lviv and other parts of western Ukraine are not near the frontlines of the Russian invasion but have faced missile attacks, which “didn’t stop us from evacuating children” as the city was struck, she said.

“It just demonstrated that you cannot be safe anywhere in Ukraine. And regardless where the children are, they are to be taken out-of-country for the reason of safety,” she said.

Nogovitsyna hailed the parents, saying they are “resolved to save their children” and are bravely facing the “double threat” of not only dealing with their child’s cancer diagnosis but also knowing their lives could be lost due to the interruption of treatment or being fatally wounded by Russian bombing.

A team of psychologists, volunteers and international partners such as St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital are assisting and providing updates to families in Ukraine as children are transported to care centers in other nations, she said.

Her organization has received guarantees from the hospitals abroad that the children may remain throughout their treatment even if the war ends soon, she said. And rebuilding collapsed health care systems would be the next step.

“As soon as Ukraine wins this war and the peace is restored, we want to rebuild the Ukrainian pediatric oncology service,” Nogovitsyna said, “and make it even better than it used to be before the war.”

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