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“FROM THE HELL OF WAR I FELL INTO THE HELL OF WITHDRAWAL SYNDROME” / CRY FOR HELP
This is the story of our activist and head of the Zhytomyr branch of СO “Legalife-Ukraine” Tetyana Romanenko, who left Ukraine in search of shelter from the war, but found herself in a difficult situation due to the inability to receive vital treatment.
We hope that this story will find its addressees in Ukraine, Europe or Denmark, where the heroine is now, who will be able to make this story public, draw the attention of society and relevant institutions for Tatiana to get help and medicine as soon as possible.
Next is her direct speech
“I am grateful to every volunteer, every person who helped me on my path to security – from the war in Ukraine to a peaceful Europe. I thank Denmark as a state for providing me with shelter.
But, unfortunately, I am still in danger, because I am left without the most necessary things – without vital medicines. I still need help. Every hour brings me closer to my personal hell because I am a drug addict and need treatment that I cannot get for the second week in Denmark. I am anxiously awaiting the day when my small supply of medicines I brought from Ukraine will run out, and the suffering and pain of withdrawal syndrome will begin.
So I decided to tell my story in the hope that someone could help solve my painful problem. Questions of life and death. This is my cry for help. ”
Life “before the war”
I have been living with HIV since 2008 and I have been receiving substitution therapy (SMT) since 2010, a vital treatment for people with drug addiction.
Editor’s note: Substitution maintenance therapy is the world’s recognized and most cost-effective treatment for people with mental and behavioral disorders due to opioid use. In Ukraine, SMT treatment is provided by the state. In addition to its effectiveness in preventing HIV infection, SMT also reduces the risk of hepatitis C infection, increases adherence to HIV treatment and reduces the risk of overdose.
Since 2015, I have been providing assistance and advice to drug addicts on how they can exercise their rights and receive SMT treatment in Ukraine. For them, it is a chance to change their reality and return to life, to families, to work – a chance that I once received.
Could I have imagined that I would have to claim my right to a healthy life again, being in a foreign country, alone, without knowledge of the language, local principles, where I do not navigate in a situation where there are no relatives. No, I didn’t thought so. And for 2 weeks now I can’t get any medical support, and I’m terrified.
Even after the start of the war, I refused to believe in what was happening! 10 days of stupor! In the first days nothing changed. It was a state of shock! The first shots and bombs were in my background. Then, when the panic started, I prepared for the worst, loaded the refrigerator, bought the necessary medicine.
My family had a dog, Bublik, and a lodger, Bogdan, who lived with me for four months and was mobilized from the first days of the war. There are two more nieces, whom I once considered my family. Back in 1991, my parents adopted my sister’s daughter, who was killed by her husband. One of them has lived in Poland for the last two years (I did not communicate with her for a year due to disagreements over the ownership of my parents’ apartment, where I lived recently), and the other went to her at the beginning of the war.
Despite my fear and panic, I continued to work as a social worker. Two deaths do not happen… – I said, and continued to provide all possible assistance to those who were in a worse situation than mine. The work consisted of testing and counseling on HIV and sexually transmitted infections.
In addition, as a representative of CO “Legalife-Ukraine”, I helped the sex workers to cope with the situation, if possible to help them with the most necessary things – medicines, food, water, warm clothes and more. First of all, they were HIV-infected sex workers and drug addicts, most of whom lost their jobs, housing and livelihoods due to the war.
My hometown Zhytomyr was in a war zone all this time. But even that was not the main reason for the decision to leave. My niece’s husband came to Ukraine, ostensibly to defend his homeland, but in fact he was most interested in my apartment. He himself is from Odessa region, but for some reason he decided to come to me, to my parents’ apartment. When he found himself on my doorstep with claims to my home, insults and threats to kill me, the instinct of self-preservation finally worked. And I ran!
On March 15, 2022, I left Ukraine. I was preparing, thinking through every detail. I finished all the work, transferred all the money to the cards, on the advice of an acquaintance who was in Norway. I took my favorite dog Bublick to relatives in countryside. I understood that it would be difficult for him to survive such a path. I did not knew where I would go and what awaited me. This decision was difficult for me, but it was necessary.
I decided to go to Berlin. Corresponded with the public organization Union of Drug Users of Germany. They promised to help with SMT drugs. That was the most important thing for me. I realized that without these drugs I could not survive. I reached the border in 5 hours. During the day I crossed the border, there were fewer people than in the first days of the war, when, for example, my niece stood at the border all day long with a small child. I was in Poland in an hour. The stock of drugs was still: ART (HIV treatment) for 3 months, SMT for a month. These drugs helped to cope with stress, but it was because of stress that the dosage increased.
Passing Poles drove me to Warsaw in their car. They were fed and brought to the distribution center. There was a registration, I was given a Polish SIM card and told that if someone goes to Berlin, “we will call you back.”
Literally half an hour later I was picked up by a Dutchman who was driving through Berlin in his car. I somehow vaguely remember the road. We left at 7 am and on the first night I was already in Berlin. We were accommodated in a hotel, there was a buffet in the morning. I wrote a message to a man (a guy from the German Drug Association) who promised to help. The answer was: register and call back the German number.
Huge Berlin, in which I did not navigated. Besides, I don’t speak English or German. Question: how to call, where to go, what to do if you do not understand the language?
And here an acquaintance Mira wrote that she has been with a child in Denmark since March 13, 2022 and the issue with her treatment has already been resolved, ie she is already receiving the SMT drug there. I took a ticket via Hamburg to Copenhagen.
At the border with Denmark, all Ukrainians were taken off the train. It turns out that on March 16, 2022, a special law was passed for refugees from Ukraine on the possibility of obtaining a residence permit in Denmark for 2 years.
At 4 o’clock in the morning, the migration service tried to obtain from me whether I would take refugee status. I fell from the chair from fatigue, I did not understand what they wanted from me. After the conversation I got a coat in a tent where there were refugees and finally fell asleep. Then the memory failure.
Now I ask myself, how were we taken to the refugee camp? Who accompanied us? I don’t remember anything. I was silent for a week that I needed medicine. I thought I would turn to the Red Cross, under whose care I was, and everything will be resolved.
It turns out that before that – it was the easiest part of my journey! I was lost in time. The days went by without dates, counting from Monday to Friday. On Friday, I was issued a temporary residence card, and began waiting for Monday, when I can go to the clinic.
On the territory of the camp (later I was told it is called “Clean Field”) for refugees, the clinic is open three days a week. From 9 to 11. I was recorded for Wednesday, for an interview. Oh! – I thought – just everything will be solved with drugs. But this was just the beginning of my adventures.
On Wednesday, the nurse wrote down my personal details and treatment needs on an A-4 sheet and handed it to me. I was told that the sooner I get into the EU’s automated system, the sooner I will receive medical and social assistance. But no one could say how long it would take. And my supply of medicine was running out.
And I started writing to friends and acquaintances. I contacted Anton Basenko (Program Manager at the European AIDS Treatment Group), who was the only one who was able to provide at least some information about Denmark. Others I approached did not knew or understand how the health care system in Denmark works for people like me. I contacted a number of NGOs in Ukraine where I worked before the war. No one could help. They said I would be a pioneer! Thanks, of course, for the honor, but it hasn’t worked out yet and I still haven’t received my medicine.
I went to the commune, where my friend Miri managed to get the drug for herself. Their nurse barely called the Center where I had been before. She was promised that everything would be resolved and I would receive treatment the next day! It was another Friday.
The biggest problem in these circumstances is the language barrier. I quickly learned how to use the translator and Google Maps. There was another person in the camp with the same diseases, HIV and drug addiction, plus he had hepatitis C and once had tuberculosis. He was also played like a ball everywhere.
Oh! – I thought – just everything will be solved with drugs now.
This was just another beginning of my adventures.
I stayed in one Center for a week, then I was transferred to another, where I am for now. I and other people who have been with me in this Center, we do not understand what to do. Nobody explains anything, we’ve been asking each other, receiving snippets of information on how to submit documents to the Migration Service. You can go to refugee camps for a time after time until someone tells you where to go and what to do.
For two days I could not fill in the online application form on the migration service’s website. It turned out by chance that my roommate was going to submit documents in paper form to one of the administrative centers of the migration service. I went with her.
On March 26, 2022, I applied for a residence permit. They are usually considered within 4 days, due to the influx of refugees, the schedule is not set. How long I must wait – is not clear.
So, on another Friday, I went to the clinic, where they promised to fix everything with SMT. I explained again through an interpreter what drugs I needed. I was told again that they had not encountered this and that the Danish Ministry of Health should be asked to finance the treatment of such diseases. Above the nurse, I could not break through the barriers of the bureaucratic machine. This time the conversation turned out to be emotional, and the translator began to explain that it is necessary to submit documents to the Danish Migration Service as soon as possible in order to legalize in the country and receive the necessary assistance.
And here’s the next round of hell – the drug withdrawal syndrome for me will be hell worse than war. All drug addicts are afraid of this. This means that I will not be able to live, I will not be able to move, I will not be able to just think soberly.
In a new place, we were housed in the building of the former hospital. There is no internet. It’s been 2 days since I connected to the internet. Conditions are spartan, but for me it was not the main thing, there were worse conditions. I’m going to the nurse again. Here they already asked for boxes of drugs and wrote a message to the clinic that I was sick and needed help. It was Wednesday.
April 2, 2022 – weekend again and I am waiting again for the moment when the bureaucratic machine of the European Union will unfold in front of me and in the woods behind. And I will finally be given the full amount of medical care I need.
The pioneer has not come out of me yet
During my 2 weeks in Denmark, I was not able to solve the urgent problem. I feel like a grain of sand caught in a whirlpool of events. Contact with decision-makers is kept to a minimum. The best I can do is to write letters to various authorities, in response to which I’ve got only monotonous “sorry, we are very concerned about your condition. Let’s try to help. “
During these two weeks, I turned in vain wherever possible. I wrote to the International Committee of the Red Cross, in response I was referred to the local Danish branch of the Red Cross, which in turn referred me to the BrugerForeningen Community of Drug Users. A BrugerForeningen representative provided my phone number for legal support. On March 28, 2022, someone really called me, maybe from this legal support department, but I spoke in English and there was no one around who could help me with the translation, and a constructive conversation did not worked out. I also did wrote to Aids fondet (Danish AIDS Foundation), to DANISH DRUG USERS UNION (Danish Union of Drug Addicts), to INDRO eV. Today I do not know where else to turn.
I have almost no strength left to fight the bureaucratic system of the European Union. And what’s next – I do not know.
What to do now in this situation and how to return home, I also do not know: from 1.04.2022 travel through the territory of the European Union for refugees from Ukraine became not for free…
Prepared by: Natalia Dorofieieva for the website of CO “Legalife-Ukraine”