a woman stands with a bullhorn
Category: Health Magazine, Winter 2023

Title:Georgetown professor cares for the “lost generation” of Ukraine

Author: By Patti North
Date Published: December 1, 2022

In the pre-dawn hours of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Maryna Baydyuk, Ph.D. (G’10), assistant research professor in Georgetown’s biology department, phoned her parents and sister in Ukraine to tell them to rush to a bomb shelter. She was worried, but not surprised, given the recent history of her country.

When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Baydyuk worked with the local Ukrainian community to establish United Help Ukraine (UnitedHelpUkraine.org), a nonprofit she has volunteered for ever since, including serving as president since 2019. “Many people don’t realize Crimea is a huge part of Ukraine’s territory,” she says. In the eight years since, UHU has developed an extensive network of volunteers, donors, and warehouse spaces—in the U.S. and Ukraine.

The invasion shifted the organization into overdrive, and now it works around the clock to fulfill four primary objectives: getting medical and humanitarian aid to the nation’s civil and military defenders; supplying resources to hospitals caring for the wounded; providing refugees (now estimated to be 10–15 million) with food, hygiene supplies, and safe transport; and raising awareness about the crisis and how the rest of us can help. “It’s a constant flow of everything from tourniquets and syringes to respirators and vehicles. Just coordinating all the logistics is expensive and labor-intensive,” she says.

UHU is in direct contact with field commanders to discern what is most urgently needed and provide medical supplies quickly—usually in a matter of days. Tourniquets and individual first aid kits are especially critical because defenders may be far from a hospital. “More than 90 percent of casualties come from blood loss,” she notes.

While all this is happening, Baydyuk teaches classes in neuroscience and is raising two children here in the Washington, D.C., area. “As a mother, I am thinking about the kids in Ukraine,” she says. “They can’t go to school and their families are broken.” Refugees leave fathers, brothers, and uncles behind to fight. “Many have lost both parents— there are so many orphanages. They will be a lost generation.” UHU is now funding and distributing thousands of toy therapy dogs to help kids express and cope with trauma.

Baydyuk’s group does everything with a handful of paid staff and about 50 volunteers, while she maintains her teaching schedule at Georgetown. “My research has suffered,” says Baydyuk, who works in the laboratory of Jeffrey Huang, Ph.D., studying mechanisms of neuroinflammation and regeneration in the brain. “Still, teaching has been my sanity. My students and colleagues have been incredibly supportive.”

She is cautiously optimistic about the future. “I know we will prevail, but at what cost?” she asks. “It will be a long and merciless war, and the challenges of rebuilding are almost unimaginable.” The millions she has raised get depleted quickly, but she is not deterred. “Before the war, Ukraine was open, independent, and democratic, and it will be again.”

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