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Helping others makes people better

Story and photos: Serhiy Zosymenko

Illustration: #SofiaRunova


To help other people have become the purpose of life for Serhiy years ago. That's when he learned that a friend's little daughter, Anna, had been diagnosed with cancer. Volunteers began collecting funds for the expensive treatment. Unfortunately, Anna didn't survive, but she taught Serhiy something important — helping others makes people better, and, according to Serhiy, the society of the future shouldn't be indifferent, and a person should take on as much responsibility as they can.

Serhiy started going to the front when Russia started a war against Ukraine in 2014. He delved into the problems related to children's cancer in Ukraine in 2015: the lack of some medicines and the poor condition of hospitals in his native Chernihiv. Later, Serhiy became a co-founder of the EVUM organization that supports children with rare diseases or hematology in Chernihiv Oblast. Now, after the full-scale invasion by Russia, they would need to repair hospitals for cancer patients, but it is impossible to plan anything today: will the Russians suddenly decide to advance to the north of Ukraine again?

The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 demonstrated how difficult it is to evacuate children with cancer from war zones. The EVUM organization developed a plan to evacuate their patients in advance, but it turned out to be ineffective. Children could not withstand the difficult road with a type of transport available. The city blockade by Russians and lack of proper medical care threatened to become a death sentence for the children. No one could help from the outside because of the war, neither the Ukrainian Government in Kyiv nor international organizations. Despite the challenges, EVUM volunteers managed to equip the transport with life support systems in a week, but there were no ways to leave Chernihiv as many cars had been shot at on the road. EVUM volunteers tried to take the children out at least five times one day, but every time they were put on the bus, heavy shelling began. On the sixth try, they tried to leave Chernihiv, but the military did not let them go any further as fierce battles were being fought in the surrounding area.

No one knew what would happen next. However, Serhiy could not believe his ears the next day because there was absolute silence. They managed to leave Chernihiv and reach Kyiv without a single explosion. Children with cancer were sent to Lviv after a short rest in the capital, then to Europe. The evacuation was successful.

Serhiy and his friends set up their base in Lviv and began delivering goods to blockaded Chernihiv. Their team nearly died on the first trip. Near Topchiyivka, a village in Chernihiv Oblast, a convoy was spotted by an enemy drone, after which the volunteers came under fire from a BM-21 Grad (a multiple rocket launcher). A rocket fell right in front of Serhiy's car, but didn't explode. Miraculously, everyone survived.

The situation in the villages of Chernihiv Oblast can be compared to Bucha: each family suffered its own tragedy at the hands of the Russians. Serhiy is sure that all Ukrainians should do their best in their place and plan for the future, "so as not to go crazy in this hell."


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