Andrii Panasiuk was a Ukrainian soldier during Russia's 2014 invasion of the Crimean Peninsula when his entire team was gunned down by enemy forces. Panasiuk, the only survivor, was captured by the Russians and held captive for months before he was exchanged as part of a prisoner swap between the two nations.
Nearly a decade later, Panasiuk, living in Western Ukraine during yet another horrific war with Russia, continues to suffer with battlefield injuries, including the effects of the resection of part of his bowel, scarring to his lower back and traumatic damage to his right foot.
On Thursday, Panasiuk and his wife, Bogdana, connected with a Garden City dermatologist and his Ukrainian medical student for a virtual consultation as part of a unique free program providing support for Ukrainian citizens and refugees unable to access specialized care in their home country.
Dr. Navin Arora, who spent 12 years in the U.S. Army as a physician, including tours in Egypt and Baghdad, said Ukrainians living in the war zone or displaced throughout Europe are in need of care for both simple and acute dermatologic ailments. Panasiuk, for example, suffered a severe contracture deformity in his right foot where he also lost his big toe due to shrapnel damage.
WHAT TO KNOW
- A Garden City dermatologist is teaming up with a Ukrainian-born medical student to provide free consultations for Ukrainian citizens and refugees who are struggling to obtain specialized care during the war in Russia.
- Dr. Navin Arora, who spent 12 years in the U.S. Army as a physician, said Ukrainians are in need of care for both simple and acute dermatologic ailments.
- Arora, working with medical student Viktoria Taranto, have met on Zoom with 20 patients in the past four months, examining their ailments and recommending treatment to be employed by their primary physician.
"We have a special skill and there's a need," Arora said before his consultation with Panasiuk where the two men connected over their shared military service. "And these civilians are in an unfortunate situation. Between the displacement of home facilities, loss of life and so forth, we have an opportunity to do something. And I think that's really important."
Conceiving a plan to help
Arora, working with medical student Viktoria Taranto, will meet on Zoom with patients where they will examine their injuries or ailments, discuss discomfort levels and recommend a course of treatment to be employed by their primary physician.
Taranto joined Arora's practice, which has offices in Garden City and Syosset, earlier this year as she pursues a degree at New York Institute of Technology's College of Osteopathic Medicine in Old Westbury. She grew up in Western Ukraine and moved to Levittown five years ago to pursue her medical degree. Most of Taranto's family still live in Ukraine.
When Arora learned of Taranto's background and connections to Ukraine, they conceived a plan to help underserved or displaced patients whose conditions are not immediately connected to the ongoing war.
Many Ukrainians, they said, have trouble accessing specialized health care while others are afraid to visit hospitals that have been targeted by the Russian military. In other cases, a patient's regular dermatologist may not have electricity or could have fled the country, she said.
Since the program began four months ago, Arora and Taranto, who serves as a translator, have met with about 20 patients, often with chronic conditions.
Taranto solicits patients largely through word-of-mouth from family and friends back home and through social media.
"We have patients who are still in Ukraine. We have Ukrainians who are abroad, mostly in Europe," Taranto said. "So this is very important because they don't have access to good care, especially such specialties as dermatology. … If it's something urgent, obviously they know where to go. But there are limited resources in terms of some specialties like dermatology."
Critical time in the conflict
The dermatology program, which appears to be unique for the region, is moving forward during a critical time in the Russia-Ukrainian conflict.
President Joe Biden met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the White House Wednesday, pledging to continue providing support for the U.S. ally. The Ukrainian leader then delivered a historic 32-minute address to U.S. lawmakers at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Lawmakers are expected to vote this week on a massive funding bill that includes nearly $45 billion in aid to Ukraine.
U.S. military officials project that roughly 100,000 Ukrainians have been killed or injured since the war began in late February.
While some patients that Arora and Taranto meet with have complex injuries, others come with common conditions.
For example, Arora on Thursday met with Hanna Surovtceva, a Ukrainian refugee living in Denmark suffering with rosacea, a common skin condition that causes blushing and visible blood vessels on the face. He recommended a topical wash and cream that can be prescribed by a general physician.
"What's 20 minutes out of my day if we can make an impact in someone's well-being, at least for a little bit or longer, hopefully?" Arora said of the program. "And that's something special and fortunate that we can do."
Robert Brodsky is a breaking news reporter who has worked at Newsday since 2011. He is a Queens College and American University alum.