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Advancing Science for Global Health
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Home > Global Health Matters Sep/Oct 2023 > Focus: Ukraine researchers persevere despite the challenge of Russian conflict Print

Focus: Ukraine researchers persevere despite the challenge of Russian conflict

September/October 2023 | Volume 22 Number 5

Since the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, Fogarty grantees working in Ukraine have shown resilience and resolve. We acknowledge the many researchers worldwide who face grave challenges and crushing difficulties, yet we showcase these Ukrainian projects to highlight scientific fortitude and the strength of our common human spirit.

Three scientists stand facing the camera in a Kyiv radiology clinic. From left to right, Ukrainian scientist, Dr. Oleksiy Omelchenko, wears a tan shirt and dark slacks, Dr. Israel Liberzon wears a navy suit over an open-neck blue shirt and Dr. Tetiana Nickelsen wears a beige blouse over tan slacks.

Bringing evidence-based care to Ukrainians suffering from PTSD

Up to a third of Ukrainians, both civilian and military, suffered from PTSD during the country’s 2014-21 conflict with Russia, as estimated by the UN. Since the Russian invasion, millions more have been exposed to combat and war-related traumas. Yet, very few of the nation’s mental health care professionals have trained in evidence-based treatment for these conditions. A Fogarty-funded project led by Dr. Israel Liberzon and Dr. Tetiana Nickelsen, both of Texas A&M University (TAMU), aims to change that.

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Dr. Kostyantyn Dumchev, wearing a black polo shirt, turns to take a selfie as he sits working on a computer in his office. A spreadsheet is visible on the computer screen behind him.

Finding a ‘win’ while battles are waged in Ukraine

After the initial shock of a Russian invasion in February 2022, Dr. Kostyantyn Dumchev, scientific director at the Ukrainian Institute of Public Health Policy, temporarily left Kyiv for his hometown in southwestern Ukraine. “In the first weeks, we were trying to help the country, doing all we could to mobilize aid,” he says. Returning to the capital city within months, he and his colleagues promptly resumed their research. Dumchev is working on two Fogarty projects, one with Dr. Jack DeHovitz, distinguished service professor, SUNY Downstate Medical Center; another a research study with Dr. Jill Owczarzak, associate professor, Johns Hopkins University.

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Acting Fogarty Director Peter Kilmarx (right) with Alonya Mazhanaya (left) smiling in Warsaw, Poland in June 2023 


This researcher wants to normalize mental health care in Ukraine

One third of all Ukrainians have at least one lifetime experience of mental disorder, scientists estimate. PTSD, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues have only been exacerbated since Russia’s invasion. The Ukrainian health care system is stretched beyond capacity to meet population needs, says Dr. Alona Mazhnaia, senior lecturer at National University of "Kyiv-Mohyla Academy" (NaUKMA) and principal investigator on a Fogarty project that is aiming to better understand Ukraine’s mental health services landscape. 

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Yuriy Usachev, wearing glasses, a light blue shirt and tan pants, sits next to a microscope and computer screens at his lab at the University of Iowa.

Probing the biology of pain during crisis

Roughly two decades ago, scientists shifted their focus from pain as a symptom of underlying illness to chronic pain as a disease in itself; this led to new therapeutic approaches. Unfortunately, today’s pain medications are neither precise nor side effect-free. A project, led by Dr. Yuriy Usachev of the University of Iowa and funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke with support from Fogarty, aims to identify new drug targets by defining the role played by the complement system in the biology of chronic pain. He works with two Kyiv-based biophysicists, Dr. Pavel Belan and Dr. Nana Voitenko.

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