As the Russian war with Ukraine entered its third week, images of the utter destruction and human despair associated with the invasion have circulated around the globe.
“We are seeing how raw power can cause unspeakable fear and destruction,” said Yale School of Public Health Dean Dr. Sten H. Vermund, the Anna M.R. Lauder Professor of Public Health. “But I look at our faculty and students here for hope.”
With that, Vermund, M.D.,Ph.D., marked the beginning of a March 16 faculty panel and student listening session on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and other countries. The discussion was presented as an opportunity for students to express their concerns about humanitarian crises around the world, learn more about YSPH faculty involvement in humanitarian projects and discuss potential courses of action.
Nathaniel Raymond, a lecturer at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and the Yale School of Public Health, spoke about the existing pathways for YSPH to contribute to humanitarian efforts.
“We are working on bringing academic expertise to the humanitarian response through our Humanitarian Research Lab,” Raymond said. As examples of this effort, Raymond mentioned using satellite imagery to quantify and map the damage done to health care infrastructure and having students serve as liaisons to such organizations like the United Nations and Doctors without Borders.”
Dr. Frederick Altice, M.D., Yale professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, noted the resolve of those trying to help during the siege of Ukraine. “I am speaking with colleagues on the ground in Ukraine, doctors who I believe share the same spirit as Ukrainian President [Volodomyr] Zelensky of staying on and fighting,” he said.
“I have messages from doctors on the front lines who are hiding drugs in the trunks of their vehicles so they can give them to their patients,” said Altice, whose faculty affiliations include the Yale Institute for Global Health. “Anywhere else, this would be a crime. But can you imagine the withdrawal agony for patients? The mental health consequences?”
Sarah Lowe, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, said scientists know from prior humanitarian crises that these events have a tremendous toll for years to come and even inter-generationally.
"These impacts stem both from the crisis itself and the disruption that follows, including displacement, separation from family members, uncertainty regarding long-term housing and employment, and discrimination," Lowe said after the event. "At the same time, it is equally important to highlight that many refugees demonstrate substantial resilience, particularly given adequate support and resources."
YSPH Associate Professor of Epidemiology Kaveh Khoshnood, faculty director of the Humanitarian Research Lab, said part of his focus is on helping students impacted by humanitarian crises around the world.
“My interest in the humanitarian field is very much personal,” said Khoshnood, Ph.D, ’95, M.P.H. ’89. He said Yale is considering creating both a scholar-at-risk program and a student-at-risk program to support individuals facing uncertainty in their academic plans due to a humanitarian crisis.
YSPH student Nassim Ashford, M.P.H. ’23, said he has taken his own initiative in helping others during the crisis in Ukraine, particularly minorities who have encountered racism.
His organization, Noir United International, which was founded in 2020 in response to the police brutality against George Floyd, joined forces with the Global Black Coalition (a coalition of 13 organizations) to help minorities stranded in Ukraine.
“We originally started with a fundraiser and have raised $100,000 but are now looking more broadly to advocate for humanitarian corridors for minority students stuck in Ukraine,” Ashford said. The Coalition to Support Black People in Ukraine is collaborating with government officials to help the approximately 55 students stuck in Kherson, Ukraine.
“We are working with doctors, lawyers and mental health experts to help with trauma-informed care and really trying to be there in any way we can in solidarity with the people dealing with war and racism,” he said.
Lowe said racism and other forms of systematic oppression, including heterosexism and gender-based violence, can be an additional component of humanitarian crises and can compound the mental health toll.
Dr. James Leckman, M.D., Ph.D., a faculty member at the Yale Child Study Center and one of the leaders of the Early Childhood Peace Consortium said: “We must ensure ongoing support. We need a ‘coalition of the willing’ and are working on a document with links to donate for public health assistance and immediate assistance to help end the war.”
Raymond said he is both furious and hopeful. “I feel pride at being at YSPH, where we are saying what we feel and also creating pathways for action,” he said. “My hope is we transform YSPH and academic institutions that have the will with a culture where we know how to respond to a humanitarian crisis and can mobilize immediately.”