Emotional moments during MUSC support session on Ukraine

March 07, 2022
From left, Rev. Frank Harris, therapist Tenelle Jones and medical scribe Ilgizar Khairutdinov talk about the war in Ukraine. Khairutdinov is from Russia.
Rev. Frank Harris, left, and therapist Tenelle Jones, upper right, talk with Ilgizar Khairutdinov. Khairutdinov, a medical scribe at MUSC, is from Russia and worries about his family there and friends' families in Ukraine.

Irina Pechenaya’s words were brief but powerful as she spoke during an online support session hosted by the Medical University of South Carolina for people affected by the crisis in Ukraine. “I am from Kyiv. They're bombing my friends and my family,” said Pechenaya, a coordinator in MUSC’s graduate medical education residency program. She fought back tears as she spoke.

“So I don't think I'm ready to share anything more, but I did want to say thank you for making yourself available,” she said to chaplain Frank Harris, manager of Pastoral Care Services at MUSC Health, and therapist Tenelle Jones, who runs MUSC’s Resiliency Program. They led the online emotional support session.

“Reach out any time,” Jones answered. “If you haven't already, start writing. Maybe that'll help. Sometimes we don't have the words to say verbally. Writing them out can give you a little bit more emotional comfort.”

Writing, talking, breathing deeply, focusing on the present, prayer – all techniques for coping with difficult emotions. Jones and Harris tried to give people upset about Ukraine options to help them stay centered.

“When you feel stressed, you want to do as much as you can to minimize the physical effects of that stress on your body. Make a list of things that you can control and that you can do right now,” Jones said.

Harris talked about the feeling of grief that can come from being forced to let go of the way things were and the importance of values.

“For a chaplain, you may not be surprised to hear me talk about faith, but it's not just a spiritual or religious faith. I think it is a faith that we bring to the table. It's a faith in the values that we have. It's a faith in the community that we're still connected to. It's the faith that we can lean on one another during difficult times, even the folks on this call. So it's just recognizing in the midst of these difficult emotions, what are those things in my life that I can look to and hold on to and that will sustain me through uncertainty,” Harris said.

Ilgizar Khairutdinov was watching and listening. He’s a Russian medical school graduate now working as a medical scribe at MUSC. “I have many friends from Ukraine. They have relatives in Ukraine, and I'm so worried about them. This is a big catastrophe.”

Khairutdinov, who moved to the U.S. three years ago with his wife and child, described what it was like learning that his country had invaded Ukraine. “I felt horrible this day. I understand that from that moment, everything will not be the same as it used to be. And for several days after that, I felt just crashed and couldn't do anything and depressed,” he said.

“Innocent citizens of Russia, they will face the consequences of the devastation of war. And I'm really worried about my parents, my relatives, who are in Russia right now, living in this environment. I know that they are afraid of their future as well.”

His own future could be affected, too. “I'm applying for a medical residency. So everything I've done for three years may not go in the direction that I imagined. My chances for matching with a residency decline significantly because I'm from Russia.”

But both he and Pechenaya said the kindness of people in Charleston helps. “Everybody who knows me, they provide support. And they're really kind with me and with my family,” Khairutdinov said.

In an email after the event, Pechenaya said she feels sadness and anger about what’s happening to her country – and gratitude to local friends.

“I have been with MUSC for 7 1/2 years. I have met many amazing people, and today, every one of them who knows I am originally from Ukraine is reaching out to me, supporting in any ways they can, offering help to me and my loved ones in Kyiv. It is amazing how much support I have received.” 

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