USAID/Ukraine’s “New Pages of Ukrainian Heroism” campaign tells the stories of women who are making history, working behind the frontlines to support Ukraine’s defense and reconstruction. Follow the campaign @USAIDUkraine on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Valeriia Rachynska speaks to us from the middle of a warehouse packed with vital medicines for persons living with HIV. She tells about her work leading human rights, gender, and community development initiatives at 100% Life, Ukraine’s largest organization devoted to supporting people living with HIV. Valeriia herself lives with HIV, and she knows firsthand the importance of fighting for life amid difficult and uncertain conditions.
“Our task is both very simple and complex: to save lives,” Valeriia explains.
“Ukraine currently has 150,000 people officially registered as living with HIV, 136,000 of whom are taking antiretroviral therapy. We strive to provide them not just with life, but with a quality life, a healthy life. To provide them with a future."
Those efforts include providing people with treatments, raising public awareness about the challenges facing persons living with HIV, and advocating for legislative changes.
100% Life has its own clinic in Kyiv, and Valeriia tells us about it with a great deal of pride.
“Our clinic is a unique medical facility. It was created by people with HIV for people with HIV. It is an island of absolute tolerance, a place of our strength. Any HIV-positive person can come to the clinic and get all the services [they need] related to their diagnosis."
In the days immediately following Russia’s full-scale invasion, 100% Life turned its clinic into a real humanitarian hub.
“Anyone could get medicines here [when the war began],” says Valeriia.
"We served civilians and those who stood up to defend Kyiv. We provided medical services, tactical medic training, and first aid packages. Our doctors and social workers have saved thousands of lives during the past year."
Since the start of the full-scale war, 100% Life has helped distribute 53 million doses of PEPFAR-funded antiretroviral drugs that USAID has delivered to Ukraine since the start of the war. This has helped save the lives of some of Ukraine’s most vulnerable citizens.
Valeriia, for one, was ready.
“For me, the war started in 2014, because I'm from the Luhansk region," she explains.
"So the sounds of explosions that I woke up to on February 24 were nothing new. Since 2014, I have spent a lot of time in the Donbas helping people with HIV."
The biggest challenge immediately following the full-scale invasion was ensuring that Ukrainians living with HIV could continue receiving antiretroviral therapy. Logistics supply chains were disrupted and many warehouses couldn’t be accessed. This put about 120,000 people at risk of losing access to lifesaving HIV treatments, even temporarily.
Valeriia and her team refused to let this happen. They worked tirelessly to keep supplies of antiretroviral medication getting to those in need, staying in constant contact with 100% Life’s regional offices and with donors including USAID, UNAIDS, and WHO. All of this, despite relocating herself and her young children from Kyiv to western Ukraine - her young family’s second displacement since 2014. Due to the hard work of Valeriia and her colleagues, 100% Life was able to purchase new stocks of medications and deliver them to Ukraine’s regions.
100% Life partners closely with USAID through our programming to support public health.
"It is the main partner that invests in preserving the health of Ukrainians … And directly in HIV/AIDS programs,” Valeriia believes.
"I would like to tell the American people: we are grateful, we see everything and remember everything. We will definitely repay you with our democracy and the rule of law that we will build in Ukraine."
Valeriia is not on the battlefield, but she has her own mission in this war:
"To protect my future, my country, my life. To fight. And to win. So that we can live in a new Ukraine – innovative, with reforms and equal rights for all.”
Kremlin propaganda has long targeted the Donbas in an effort to undermine Ukrainian national identity and unity. Coming from Luhansk, Valeriia knows this quite well.
"For many years in the Luhansk region, we were told that our homeland was the Soviet Union," says Valeriia.
"But we knew that our homeland was Ukraine. And to love your homeland means to defend it and take responsibility for it. For everything that happens here, positive and negative."
Valeriia, through her selflessness, her indomitable will, and her commitment to her country and its future, is saving lives and writing a new chapter in Ukraine’s history books.