Visiting Ukrainian students reflect on their time at Dundee
Published on 29 March 2023
In February, as the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approached, medical students Olesia Strelchenia and Viktoriia Zemliana found themselves in completely new territory hundreds of miles away from home
The pair had travelled from Dnipro to Scotland to continue their education through short term placements at the University of Dundee’s School of Medicine. For six weeks they had the opportunity to explore and train in different clinical areas in Ninewells Hospital, something they were unable to do in their home country.
Dnipro, located in central Ukraine, has been targeted by Russian forces on several occasions. Teaching at Olesia and Viktoriia’s home institution, Dnipro State Medical University, has been severely impacted since the invasion, with most of the learning brought online.
Through a twinning agreement with Dundee and Dnipro, it was arranged for the medical students to join the School of Medicine for a clinical placement.
Final-year student Viktoriia said that while her time at Dundee was essential for her education, perhaps more importantly it will help her better assist in the current war.
“This experience has been crucial for me,” said Viktoriia. “As I am in my final year, I now have to choose one specialty that I will practice for the rest of my life in Ukraine. This has been a really good opportunity for us to try a lot of interesting and interactive things before I make my choice. I spent the last six weeks in three different departments, giving me a good understanding of what might be better for me.
“Now we have the opportunity to tell our friends, other students and tutors about the things we have experienced and the skills and knowledge we have been given. The things we have learned here are unique in Ukraine and will really help in the current situation. The main thing is that we can help our country, help our soldiers.”
Olesia, a penultimate year student, added, “I have had the opportunity to see a lot of medical investigations and operations, most of which I was seeing for the first time. The doctors were fantastic, explaining every little step and answering any questions I had. I will take everything I have learned back with me.”
Back in Ukraine, Olesia provided support in her local general hospital in Dnipro, which had been repurposed as a military medical centre since the start of the conflict. She remembers the beginning of the invasion and explained how the past year has been.
“When it all started, I was working a nightshift in the hospital and heard an explosion,” she said. “It was very scary and I didn’t know what to do next. I didn’t know what to expect, what was to come.
“Since then I have seen a lot of things in the hospital throughout this year. My colleagues work overtime every day. Our doctors are tired. Once, after a huge explosion, we didn’t have any light in the hospital and were examining patients with flashlights. It’s really hard.”
Throughout their time at Dundee Olesia and Viktoriia have stayed in contact with their friends and family and have followed the ongoing conflict closely.
“No one is fully safe in Ukraine, but our friends and family are as safe as can possibly be right now,” said Olesia. “For these weeks we have been constantly checking our phones for the notifications that update us on any bombings. I have been worried if I don’t check my phone regularly. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again.”
Now their placements have ended, the two students will return to Ukraine to continue their studies at Dnipro Medical State University, which plans to return to in-person teaching for the first time since the beginning of the invasion.
Olesia plans to continue to volunteer in the military hospital and Viktoriia will prepare for her final exams. They both say they will never forget their time at Dundee.
“I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has helped us,” said Viktoriia. “It has been the best experience, for me, in my whole life. I plan to talk about my time at Dundee for the rest of my life."
Olesia added, “We are so grateful for the support and to every person who gave us this opportunity to learn from the best.”
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