Dr. Elizaveta Glinka, or Dr. Lisa, as she is known in Russia and Ukraine, is a doctor who gives hope to those who have lost it. She is also a blogger and a charity activist. She first started getting involved with charity in 1999, when she started the first private hospice in Kiev, Ukraine. Since then, she has dedicated herself to treating homeless people and seriously ill patients free of charge. Her charity fund, “Fair Help”, provides material support and medical aid to terminally ill cancer patients. Since the start of military activity in the southeast of Ukraine, however, Dr. Lisa has shifted gears, risking her life evacuating sick and wounded children from the war zone.
You help the most helpless people, who don’t expect support from anywhere else. How did you decide to get into it? And does it require any extra effort?
Dr. Lisa: I work with children just as eagerly as with all the others. But all of our charities are busy in one way or another, and what my Fund does is a “bottomless pit” when it comes to work and where it must be done. I had decided to try to do what could be done in Russia, with people who are dying; those who lack an official registration, who don’t have medical insurance or even a home. With this war in Ukraine, people there got trapped in a similar situation – they were left unneeded by anyone. First, it is interesting to help them, and second, I like doing something which not many people can do.
You always encounter the pain, grief and death of other people. Seeing it on a daily basis would unnerve many people; how do you deal with this? Is it something that one can get used to? And don’t you consider euthanasia the best way out for those that are dying and in pain?
Dr. Lisa: One simply can’t get used to grief. But we are trying to do our best so that not all of them die. As for me, I think that one should always help. And euthanasia is not [acceptable] for me. It might be a way out for some, but I am against it.
People who are dying can literally live a normal life until the very end. You only need to anaesthetize the person and take care of him; [he can] probably be close to his relatives or fulfill some of his last wishes if he stays conscious and still does want something. Those who have cancer die very slowly; it is not the instant death of war.
Another significant point is that those dying, homeless, low-income and mentally-ill people – all of them are unable to protect themselves. Someone should do that for them. Thus if I lose my mind, I don’t even know…So far, nobody has lost his mind yet.
You’ve been working in Ukraine for a long time. From your LiveJournal blog post, we learned that you opened the country’s first hospice and met its patients. Now you regularly take sick and wounded children to Russia, out of the military conflict zone. Has the war changed the Ukrainians?
Dr. Lisa: I’ve only noticed the changes in the social media. But people remain people. I don’t have much time for reading all that: it is strange for me to read through all those skirmishes: how can you be glad at the death or maiming of a person and say “it’s all your fault”? But I try not to react to it.
In your interviews you often spoke about the indifference and so-called “enormity” of people. But nowadays, many are helping the Ukrainian refugees, taking them into their homes, collecting humanitarian aid, and working as volunteers. Ha something changed in the public conscience?
Dr. Lisa: That is true, the war has changed many people. Previously, I used to notice that a person could be lying in the street and nobody would come up to him. Now, even the people who previously needed my help – retired people and many others – are coming and saying they are ready to share everything they have left. This is similar to when we had fires in 2010, when practically everyone could come and offer help, even though they did not have much. Now, during the war, the situation is similar.
Do you think it is a temporary occurrence and that it will get back to people being indifferent again, like they were? Or will there still be some changes left in society?
Dr. Lisa: I always hope for more humaneness in our society.
You don’t just have to deal with your medical colleagues and volunteers; you also hold negotiations with “high-profile” people. Therefore you are able to evaluate whether a situation where innocent civilians die next to them on a daily basis is able to change them as well. Is it easier or harder to solve humanitarian issues with them?
Dr. Lisa: Before the start of the military conflict, I didn’t have such negotiations often. I started meeting with people who were public servants on a completely different level. If previously I talked to some local administrators about the allocation of lodging or some other type of aid, then now the negotiations occur at a different level.
I was so surprised that when I first talked about the evacuation of children, the reaction came in just one hour. I was told: “Yes, take them out; there will be room [for them]”. There are things a person is unable to do on his own. I was told that if I was ready [to take them out], they would be ready to host wounded and sick children and ready to help them. Nowadays these children are unable to receive all the medical help they need in Ukraine.
What made you leave everything behind and travel to Ukraine, risking your life? You went to the military conflict zone, the so-called anti-terrorist operation zone without a security guard?
Dr. Lisa: You are so funny; who on earth would provide me with a security guard? I probably wouldn’t refuse. But it is hard for a man to enter Ukraine now. What drives me is having the chance to help those children; and this chance exists now in Russia. How can we leave them there?
We are now at your Fund, your employees are sorting out clothes, toys – is this the humanitarian aid that you’ll later deliver in Ukraine?
Dr. Lisa: This is not the humanitarian aid to be delivered in Ukraine; it is for the refugees who will come here: the so-called “unorganized flow” of people who simply got on a bus and came to Russia. These things are for them – clothes, toys for children, and pillows. I only take children from Ukraine.
How many times have you gone to pick them up? And how many more times do you think you’ll do it? What do you project?
Dr. Lisa: I’ve already been there 14-15 times. In the nearest future, I am going there once again for more children and the number of future trips I’ll take depends on whether there are wounded children.
I hope they will stop shelling and shooting. But now we face another problem: there are very many unexploded shells there. Unfortunately, there will be cases of children blowing themselves up. The last case happened at night, when children detonated an explosive: two were killed and another two will be taken to Russia. They were simply playing – they took an unexploded shell and started sawing it up. I think there will be similar cases.
It is easier to leave the place when there is no war. And it is much harder when there is constant shelling.
However, if they stop shelling, we should bring the aid there and not bring people here. Only critical people should be taken to Russia, when they can’t be operated on there, Even though Donetsk had very good medical establishments before the war.
You’ve said you only take out children. What about the adults? In a country where the society is divided at every level, how do people get medicine? Do they divide it between the Ukrainian military and the self-defense forces?
Dr. Lisa: No, a sick person is a sick person regardless of his occupation. Thank God. Unfortunately, I only take out children now. I would eagerly evacuate adults as well, but I don’t have the ability.
They are mostly the people who can’t get help, due to the lack of medicine. They include the elderly, retired people, the severely ill who were ill before the war, as well as wounded adults who need long-term care. There are problems taking them out. The Donetsk Region is somehow able to deal with them, but I don’t know how well.
A war is always stressful for a person. Do you have any kind of barrier that lets you block your emotions and fear? What do you do to maintain it?
Dr. Lisa: Of course it is scary! Only patience helps one fight it, nothing more. This is always a hard trip. But if I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t go.
With respect to emotionality, you usually don’t think about it during a war. When there is shelling, you try to hide and the next minute you forget about it, as if everything is back to normal. Of course when there is intensive shelling, I [am forced to] stay there for a week, or a week and a half, but I can leave the next day [when it has stopped], as I usually do.
But it is not about me, it depends on the children: how quickly they must be taken out; otherwise we can wait a bit and then we can bring other children from the nearby villages.
Does that mean that you value the lives of those children more than your own?
Dr. Lisa: I am not a young woman; they are children and have not seen much yet.