Ukrainian Refugees Find Care and Compassion at Mater

June 18, 2023

A woman who fled to Brisbane from war-torn Ukraine while six months’ pregnant has thanked Mater’s Refugee Health Service for caring for her and her baby son – while her husband fights for his country’s freedom.

Daryna Povorozniuk, 28, is one of more than 900 patients assisted by the Mater Integrated Refugee Health Service each year – a service which delivers health care to people on arrival from a refugee background. 

Additionally, Mater Refugee Complex Care Clinic (MRCCC) provides health care at no cost to those seeking asylum who do not have Medicare and have complex healthcare needs.

This week is National Refugee Week (June 18-24) and this year also marks the 21st anniversary of the MRCCC’s foundation at Mater’s South Brisbane health campus.

Mrs Povorozniuk was heavily pregnant when she and her husband, a soldier in the Ukrainian army, made the heart-wrenching decision for her to leave Ukraine, to seek refuge in Brisbane with family.

“Things were dangerous back home, our house was bombed and destroyed by the Russians. I witnessed a lot of torture – a lot of my friends lost their husbands,” Mrs Povorozniuk said.

“Things were getting worse and worse. Knowing I was pregnant, I knew I had to leave and go somewhere safe.”

She said her parents were living with her husband in a small apartment in Ukraine after their home was also destroyed.

Two weeks ago, Mrs Povorozniuk’s husband came to Australia to meet Eli for the first time – a year since his birth last June at Mater Mothers’ Hospital in South Brisbane.

“It was an emotional time for all of us,” she said.

“Just to see my husband again and for him to finally be with Eli was so special. I am hoping and praying one day we can all be back together and start our lives in Australia as a family.”

Mrs Povorozniuk said Mater had provided care throughout her pregnancy and after Eli’s birth.

“The care we received was free and that was a relief for me. I was so afraid for the bills to come,” she said.

She said when Eli was born his blood sugar levels were extremely low and he remained in hospital for several days. He was monitored around-the-clock by a team of specialist doctors and nurses – the care that was not available in Ukraine due to Russia’s invasion. 

MRCCC was established in 2002 and is the longest continuing clinic of its kind in Australia. The service offers specialised primary health care including complex case management for people seeking asylum, treatment, specialist referrals, and is a secondary consultation service for general practices. 

Dedicated staff service patients from more than 67 countries including Papua New Guinea Iran, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.

Mater Refugee Health Service Director Donata Sackey said the service had been responsive to a changing global crisis, including COVID-19, the war in Ukraine and the Afghanistan evacuation.

Ms Sackey said MRCCC and Mater Foundation support people who are seeking asylum and do not have access to Medicare, by partnering with many donors and philanthropic organisations including Nudgee Trust, Muslim Charitable Foundation, Ukrainian Community of Queensland Inc, Tzu Chi Foundation, to provide essential pathology, pharmacy and radiology services at no cost to patients.

“What remains consistent is our commitment to looking after those most marginalised in our community and making sure that nobody goes without healthcare,” Ms Sackey said.

“The clinic has seen patients who have experienced trauma and torture, gender-based violence and endured war and prolonged displacement in refugee camps. 

As a multidisciplinary specialist primary care service, MRCCC delivers holistic care with a focus on addressing the patients’ social determinants of health in a culturally safe context.

Mater Refugee Health GP Dr Rachel Claydon is one of the four current part time doctors who work at the clinic and care for patients from all age groups, including vulnerable single women and those with small children.

“One of the things I have found really rewarding is helping women with gynaecological issues, to finally help them sort out health issues they have been living with for years,” Dr Claydon said.

“We also look at the whole picture – cultural beliefs, social support and housing. Providing a holistic type of care for patients is something important to all of us.

“People who have had a refugee journey have experienced significant trauma, and we offer mental health support as a priority. We work as a team in MRCCC to provide a service where patients feel safe to engage with us.”

Ukrainian Community of Qld Inc Vice President Adam Miljenovic said he was thankful for the ongoing partnership with Mater Refugee Health Service which had provided care to hundreds of displaced people from Ukraine. 

“Mater’s compassion in understanding the health needs of displaced Ukrainians is critical at a time when their whole lives have been thrown into chaos and they are trying to adapt to a new country,” Mr Miljenovic said.

“When Daryna was at risk – Mater was there.”

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