CANADEM's Humanitarian Response in Ukraine
~ Data Analysis and the Ukraine War ~
Lilit Gevorgyan in Ukraine with WHO
One more war on Earth. We woke up on 24 February with the news that Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine. After a shock lasting a week I thought Russian soldiers will surrender once in Ukraine and the war of one man will end quickly. I guess that was another myth of the Soviet that people lived happily and together. Panic and the extent of one’s uselessness started to build up and then an email from CANADEM. A week of communication and in mid march I joined WHO Ukraine as a GIS specialist.
Lviv was vibrant and busy. Since I was working with the International Emergency Medical Teams (EMT) coordinating team from WHO, I was invited to attend a workshop organised for Ukrainian Center For Disaster Medicine under the Ministry of Health. This was my very first in person meeting with colleagues from WHO Ukraine and beyond. Learning from and working with people who established the standards for EMTs was self explanatory!
Trip to Ukraine: Impressions on the ground
Windows covered on Armenian church in Lviv
Kyiv was clean and sad. People were mostly ignoring the air raid sirens and carrying on with their work. I was impressed that streets were super clean, public transport was available, and all services were available. I recovered from my fear of speaking Russian and learnt to seek permission from locals to use Russian for communication. Everyone was kind and they told me as a guest I am welcome to use any language I know. This was very handy as I was also helping my colleagues in communication and getting us around in Kyiv.
After experiencing air alert sirens for a couple of weeks I made peace with the situation and tried to discover the city on my own. In a park next to our hotel I saw many statues and the one dedicated to fallen students during WWII became my favourite in the area.
Yet, my thoughts are always with the population that has no easy access to shelters as we had in our hotels or offices.
Statute to the fallen students and teachers
My mission for Data Analysis
The staff was moving into the Kyiv country office after working remotely from Lviv for several months. The day has come and I finally met some of my immediate colleagues and had an in person discussion on the situation and our work.
Data management is crucial in emergencies. I have been involved in many activities. Supporting EMT teams, Medical evacuation team (MedEvac), Center for Disaster Medicine etc. We got access to very sensitive information that should be handled with the highest level of security.
After the initial shock of the war Ukrainian officials started to recover and develop adaptive capacity with the help of international agencies. We presented them with tools and solutions and after careful consideration of various scenarios and options came to a conclusion that WHO will help to develop a GIS portal to support spatial and statistical analysis. It was agreed that we develop the tool, train the Ukrainian team at the ministry in order to develop their capacities and hand over the ownership to local authorities. During my mission to Ukraine I had a meeting with the head of Center For Disaster Medicine and we discussed our collaboration and the role of WHO and specialists.
Life in a Ukrainian shelter, but what of those with no shelter?
One particular task makes me feel the highest satisfaction every time I think of that project. A colleague from Geneva initiated research to evaluate the impact of war on cancer treatment deliveries. I joined them and worked on spatial analysis of pre and after war data. These results of our analyses reached the headquarters and were presented at a donor conference which led to a more detailed investigation and support for Ukraine. WHO and donors will help to restore cancer treatment infrastructure by starting a new capacity development program already in 2023. Being the main specialist working on the analysis gave me the feeling of the importance of our work in Ukraine. It was challenging, it was overwhelming since we were not able to get desired primary data and yet our dedication gave the results. This was the most convincing point presenting our input in response and in the recovery of the health system.
Another occasion showing the importance of data occurred when I got a call without any advance notice. I was mostly working remotely and could feel the extent of war through communication with my colleagues who were already in Ukraine. I will always remember that call when a colleague from MedEvac operations was emotionally telling me that without data and maps she can not know where to send the teams and how to organise the operations in a safest way. I remember promising her to develop an online tool to facilitate their activities close to the frontline. I requested 2 hours to organise data they needed and develop tools tailored to their needs. I delivered a very flexible and yet intuitive tool for their operations and had a sound sleep happy that we could support colleagues on the ground.
Waiting in the underground passage during air alert sirens
Be ready to be a good listener even though you are a data analyst and have no background in psychology. Colleagues will approach technical specialists with no clearly defined requests and it’s you who should understand the problem and propose a solution. It’s also important to understand the extent of emergency and time limitations. We always need to do feasibility analysis. Choose between complex and multifunctional and simpler tools. Situation is changing fast, there is an accessibility problem, lack of infrastructure, rapid decision making etc. Flexibility, teamwork and common sense is essential.
I called the Information Management team a Psychology club: you talk about your problems, we structure them and give solutions!
I learned the importance of a safe environment provided by employers. The absolute support I received from CANADEM in terms of operational guidance, mental health provided a psychological safety buffer and absolute trust in colleagues. I had the most professional and yet human centred experience with them. My gratitude to them and UK DFID for supporting humanitarian agencies when they need it the most.