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Return to Ukraine: This feature is part of an original Milwaukee Independent editorial series that recorded news from areas across Ukraine, including Milwaukee's sister city of Irpin, from June to July of 2023. It was the second time in the span of a year that the award-winning Wisconsin news organization traveled to the country during the war. The purpose of this journalism project was to document a humanitarian aid mission by the Milwaukee-based nonprofit, Friends of Be an Angel, and report about conditions 17 months after Russia's brutal full-scale invasion.

A special Medical Forum was held on July 3 as part of the “Doctors for Heroes” project in Kyiv. The live-streamed presentation was designed to inform medical specialists in the field of reconstructive surgery and the public about the organization’s results from the previous four months of clinical work, which began in February.

The “Doctors for Heroes” project has been primarily financed by donations from individuals and businesses in Ukraine. It was launched by the charity foundation Oriental Star, in cooperation with a team of Ukrainian doctors and bioengineers.

The medical mission for the coming years will focus on post-traumatic maxillofacial reconstruction for active members of the military, veterans, and anyone wounded as a result of Russia’s armed aggression.

Ukrainian surgeons, who are pioneering work in the field of Maxillofacial Surgery, gave presentations on their recent and revolutionary achievements. The work focused on the reconstruction of complex head, neck, and facial injuries sustained as a result of combat wounds.

Speakers included Dr. Andriy Kopčak, Professor of Medical Sciences, who detailed innovative technologies and the process for patients in need of complex reconstruction beyond what military hospitals could offer.

“This project originated in response to the challenges that Ukraine is now facing. The number of injured soldiers with wounds to the head and neck is increasing. And there is now an overwhelming number of soldiers who require highly specialized reconstructive surgery.” – Dr. Kopčak

Dr. Igor Fedirko, Chief Maxillofacial Surgery of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, gave a review of the medical help provided to injured soldiers on the battlefield.

“It is unprecedented for one country to have so many people with such extreme problems in less than nine years. The set of circumstances has pushed Ukrainian medical science forward rapidly to master new technologies. It has also forced surgeons to think beyond established procedures, like involving medical engineers early on for their expertise with modeling customized implants from materials like titanium.” – Dr. Fedirko

Dr. Alexander Kurechko explained the stages of care that followed, involving the restoration of lost teeth and physical functions like the ability to eat normally or to smile.

“Any soldier can come to our clinic to receive dental care. We have already provided care to over 500 soldiers in frontline areas.” – Dr. Kurechko

And Danil Prikhodko, leader of the top bioengineering workshop of Ukraine in the field of modeling patient-specific implants using 3D technologies for reconstructions, presented the results of cooperation with Ukrainian surgeons in the treatment of wounded soldiers.

Anya Verkhovskaya, Director of Friends of Be an Angel, outlined funding initiatives at the forum that her humanitarian organization based in Milwaukee was coordinating to help raise awareness and financial resources to pay for the urgent reconstructive procedures.

Two veterans waiting for their reconstructive surgeries also attended, including the wife of one soldier wounded in the Donetsk region. After learning about “Doctors for Heroes,” she was so inspired that she joined the team of volunteers to help raise funds for her husband and other wounded heroes.

Patients receive surgical care free of charge in Ukrainian medical institutions, at the expense of state guarantees provided by the National Health Service of Ukraine. But the cost of individual implants is not covered by the state, which requires the wounded to fundraise in order to cover the significant expenses.

Implants for one patient can vary from $1,000 to $6,000, depending on the complexity of the case. The average cost of modeling and manufacturing implants is under $3,000.

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Series: Return to Ukraine

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Milwaukee Independent has reported on Russia’s brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine since it began on February 24, 2022. In May of 2022, Milwaukee Independent was the first news organization from Wisconsin to report from Milwaukee’s Sister City of Irpin after its liberation. That work has since been recognized with several awards for journalistic excellence. Between late June and early July of 2023, Milwaukee Independent staff returned to Ukraine for a second assignment to report on war after almost a year. The editorial team was embedded with a Milwaukee-based nonprofit, Friends of Be an Angel, on a humanitarian aid mission across Ukraine. For several weeks, Milwaukee Independent documented the delivery of medical supplies to military and civilian hospitals, and was a witness to historic events of the war as they unfolded.

Return to Ukraine: Reports about a humanitarian mission from Milwaukee after a year of war