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A damaged ambulance hit during a Russian strike in Luhansk region, Ukraine. Alamy Stock Photo
Andriy Klepikov

Ukrainian charity worker speaks of colleagues deaths in missile attack

Andriy Klepikov is the Executive Director of the Alliance for Public Health in Ukraine and in Dublin to deliver a lecture and meet a Dáil committee.

A UKRAINIAN charity worker has spoken of how his colleagues were killed while delivering critical medicines to HIV patients.

Andriy Klepikov is the executive director of the Alliance for Public Health in Ukraine, one of the largest HIV and TB-focused NGOs in Ukraine and the region.

He was in Dublin this week to participate in an event marking the World Aids Day as he delivered a lecture speaking about Ukraine’s experience in treating the illness. 

He also met with the Foreign Affairs Committee and spoke about the situation on the ground in Ukraine.

The country has one of the highest rates of HIV in world with some estimates are as high as 1% of the population carry the virus. 

More than 260,000 people living in Ukraine live with HIV and Klepikov said that 59,000 people are on antiretroviral therapy in areas directly impacted by the war.

Some estimates are as high as 1% of the entire population carry the virus, one of the highest prevalence rates in the world outside Africa.

“I came here to Dublin to speak from this unique experience of sustaining HIV and TB programmes within the war context.

“This is, for me, an opportunity to share directly what challenges, as well as successes we have in dealing with this issue in Ukraine during the war.

“We Ukrainians are known for our resilience. And it’s not only on the battlefield, but also in the area of health as well,” he said. 

Fled to safer places

Klepikov said that when the war started a large number of those HIV patients, and TB sufferers, had fled to safer places. 

He said patients are trapped without supplies in the warzones there was also the difficulty of refugees and displaced people moving to areas without their much needed medicines.  

While before the war, many of the patients who suffer with HIV or TB were already suffering with discrimination and isolation – the war has increased their “societal disintegration”.

Klepikov said that the international aid had helped in mobilising resources to allow Alliance for Public Health to establish new delivery methods. This included large deliveries of medicines by international organisations. 

He said that while normal logistics broke down in the, war charity and civil society groups stepped in and began directly delivering the medicines to patients. 

As the crisis worsened, the deliveries moved from mini-vans to bicycles with riders moving the items street by street in towns and cities despite the threat from Russian forces. They also developed a system of mobile clinics.

WhatsApp Image 2022-12-01 at 15.14.55 Andriy Klepikov of the Alliance for Public Health in Ukraine. Alliance for Public Health Alliance for Public Health

While the charity continued to provide services in areas outside of the immediate warzone – across the lines Klepikov said that there have been many patients killed in the shelling and even aid workers murdered by Russian forces. 

“Unfortunately in our partner organisation, one unit was attacked and three people died.

“We have our clients even in neighbouring towns, suburbs of Kyiv of Bucha and Irbin our TB patients were tortured and killed. They were just civilians, not military people.

“This is a big issue because when I talked also with one of our clients, who was diagnosed with HIV just 10 days before the war started, she said ‘I don’t know what will kill me first, HIV or Russian missiles’,” he added. 

Klepikov said that it is “impossible” to get into areas, mostly in the east of Ukraine, where there is active fighting taking place. 

He said the behaviour of Russian soldiers has not changed from what he experienced in 2014 when soldiers involved in the annexation of Crimea burned medicines in a TB and HIV clinic. 

Klepikov said there is now growing evidence that Russian forces have attacked members of the LGBTQ community in occupied areas. 

“It is not systematic but [there is] anecdotal evidence of Russians targeting gay people and trans people in occupied territories. So it’s one thing really to keep in mind that it’s fairly dangerous to to remain in occupied territories,” he added. 

Increase in demand

The other consequence of the fighting is that cities such as Lviv in Western Ukraine have seen a massive influx of HIV and TB sufferers which is placing a strain on resources there. 

He said there has been a seven-fold increase in the demand for “pre-exposure prophylaxis” and said that this is a sign that there is a need to increase services to match the demand. 

“It’s an indication and shows how dynamic the needs are, and how important it is to be agile to address those needs,” he added.   

Klepikov said that the efforts of Irish diplomats and the Government to assist the Ukrainian state was greatly appreciated. 

“We in Ukraine appreciate the Irish people, because we know that they have taken in nearly 70,000 refugees here.

“And for some of them, who are patients with HIV, we still maintain contact, even from Ukraine. They’re not completely left alone.

“We really appreciate the support Ireland is providing to Ukraine in such difficult circumstances,” he concluded. 

Meanwhile efforts to establish talks between Russia, the US and Ukraine have been rubbished by Vladimir Putin. Olaf Scholz the German chancellor has also called on Putin to enter negotiations. 

Heavy fighting is continuing in the south-east and east of the country. Russia was also bolstering its strikes against civilian infrastructure, particularly on the electricity supply grid.

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