For Victor Czerkasij (pronounced chur’ ka-see) and his wife, Rene, Ukraine was the land of his parents and ancestors, and it was supposed to be the site of their 40th wedding anniversary vacation. Then the war came.
And the effects of that war on children have been stark. UNICEF has estimated that 1.5 million Ukrainian children are at risk of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues—with potentially lasting effects. Some 1,500 children have been orphaned, according to the Associated Press.
For Czerkasij, MSN’06, that shifted Ukraine from a tourist destination to a place where he could use his skills and abilities to support an embattled nation. A senior provider and dermatology nurse practitioner for Skin Cancer and Cosmetic Dermatology in Chattanooga and Cleveland, Tennessee, Czerkasij made his next visit to Ukraine part of a mission. He spent nine days there in March 2023, mostly treating hospitalized children who had been traumatized by the war.
One teen girl Czerkasij treated suffered from “neurotic excoriation”—a picking habit. “After her father was killed, she had just torn up her face, her shoulders, anywhere her fingernails could reach her skin,” he says. Another girl pulled out wads of her hair.
Czerkasij, who earned a doctor of nursing practice at Graceland University in Independence, Missouri, in 2022, helped by prescribing skin medications.
“It’s skin, but it’s really deeper than that. It requires heavy counseling and long-term care,” he says.
The former minister, who is on faculty in the School of Religion at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, said he was struck by the generosity of the children, some of whom were in hospitals that provided no electricity in patient rooms in order to conserve energy. He distributed toys in the hospitals.
“What was amazing to me was how many of the children would say, ‘I’m OK. Why don’t you give it to the child next door? They’re even worse than me,’” he recalls.
The adults were thankful for the health care assistance and the support their country has received to fight Russia.
“They’re truly grateful. They’re not unaware of what America and the rest of the world has done,” Czerkasij says.
Czerkasij, who also worked as a translator for surgeons in Ukraine, returned in October 2023 to provide more care. He hopes that Ukraine will prevail in the war.
“Ukrainians and their land go together,” he says. “We have a saying that translates, ‘If Russia loses the war, they go home; if we lose the war, we have no home.’
“They are very determined as a people that they will have their country back and not live under a regime, but instead be free.”