While their country fights for survival, Ukrainian parents of children with cancer and other severe illnesses are in a life-or-death battle of their own to get their children to safety so they can continue treatment.
With Ukrainian men ages 18 to 60 prohibited from leaving the country amid the Russian invasion, the scramble to save sick children has fallen to largely to mothers, like Inna, who with her 8-year-old son, Danylo, was recently forced to flee the besieged eastern city of Kharkiv for the relative safety of Lviv, near the country’s western border.
“It was terrifying,” Inna explained to NBC News reporter Molly Hunter in piece that aired on TODAY Monday. NBC has withheld their full names to protect their safety. “Leaving in an ambulance, dodging the constant bombing. I was full-scale war.”
Those frightening attacks began just weeks after Danylo was diagnosed with blood cancer on Feb. 5.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to get him the treatment he needs,” she said.
At Lviv’s Western Ukrainian Specialized Children’s Medical Center, Dr. Olena Kazlova called it “a terrible situation,” explaining that what Inna and other mothers are going through is “a hell no one should have to endure.”
For 7-year-old Sofia, who’s on dialysis and waiting for a kidney transplant, her nurse, Dubrovina, travelled with her to Lviv to escape the dangers in the capital city of Kyiv.
“These kids are like our family,” the nurse said of the children she and her fellow caregivers look after. “There was not enough staff to get our children out.”
And there aren't enough resources at the Western Ukrainian Specialized Children’s Medical Center to take care of all the children coming their way. The hospital is overrun and needs to move the young patients out of the country.
“I am very worried,” Inna confessed when it came time for her and Danylo to make that move Saturday. “I just want to get to the new clinic fast so we can start the treatment.”
They've since made their way to Poland, where she and Danylo still face an uncertain battle against cancer, but one free from Russian attacks.
“For now the future is unclear,” Inna said. “But we are so happy to be safe.”
Ree Hines is a freelance writer and editor who covers pop culture, lifestyle stories and trending news. She’s also a soul-music loving, coffee-obsessed member of both Team Cat and Team Dog. Ree lives in Tampa, Florida, and is a regular contributor to TODAY.com.