Tetyana Cheairs, M.D., M.S.P.H., Stepped Up for Her Native Ukraine During a Time of Great Need
Amid Concerns Over Her Family’s Safety, Dr. Cheairs Has Tried Her Best To Support Her Homeland
Growing up in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, there was always an emphasis on family for Tetyana Cheairs, M.D., M.S.P.H., assistant dean for Ph.D. programs and assistant professor of pathology, microbiology and immunology. With two generations of physicians in her family, Dr. Cheairs’ holds a unique perspective on the dedication to caring and assisting others in need. She used just that—this time for her own family—when her native country was invaded by Russia and she sprang into action and led a humanitarian drive for Ukrainian citizens that not only collected thousands of donations, but also showed her the support she had from those around her.
After rumors about a possible invasion, Dr. Cheairs became very worried for her parents and loved ones who live in Ukraine. “I remember speaking with my family and friends before the invasion. We were uncertain and nervous,” Dr. Cheairs recalled.
The uncertainty unfortunately became the reality for Ukraine, when on February 24, Russia began its attack. “It was 4 a.m. and I was texting and calling all my friends and family asking if everyone was okay,” Dr. Cheairs said. “It was scary and shocking. I couldn’t believe what was happening.”
It didn’t take long for Dr. Cheairs to think of a way to help those back in Ukraine once she realized that her loved ones were not affected by the initial attack. At first, she considered going to Ukraine herself to see how she could help, but securing a flight proved to be near impossible. Looking for another way to be of service, she thought to collect donations that displaced Ukrainians needed—from first aid products, clothing, hygiene products to baby and maternity supplies—calling it the Stand with Ukraine Humanitarian Drive. “I thought about how compassionate the NYMC community is, how caring our students are and thought ‘maybe I can ask them for help.’ The response was absolutely amazing,” she said.
Throughout the month of March, the drive saw more than 2,500 items fill designated donation bins around campus and even inspired members of the Westchester County government to join the cause. “It was fascinating to see how much people came together. Everyone showed their understanding of how devastating the war is,” Dr. Cheairs said. She received many more donations after she sent the supplies to Ukraine, so she began to donate them to groups that were assisting Ukrainian refugees who were fleeing the war.
Aside from the drive, Dr. Cheairs has seen an outpouring of personal support from colleagues and students, “I got so many emails, so many people stopping by my office to see if I was okay and if my family was okay,” she said. “It was very uplifting.”
Although the support from the NYMC community lifted Dr. Cheairs spirits, the continuing war with no resolution in sight, has weighed on her as she focuses on her faculty duties. “You have to disassociate yourself, otherwise you’ll go mad. In the morning I check the news to make sure my area is still safe, then I check with my family and friends,” Dr. Cheairs said. “When I’m teaching, I make sure I’m in the zone where I’m not thinking about it.”
As it remains dangerous to travel to Ukraine, Dr. Cheairs cherishes her visit to her family there last year, which was the first time she had been back in 10 years. She hopes that she can return, when the country is no longer at war and her family and friends are safe once again. In the meantime, she remains inspired by her compatriots defending their homeland, many of whom are risking everything to do so.
“I’m amazed with the strength and resilience of Ukrainian people. Nobody expected the war to last so long, and now everyone is hoping for a victory,” Dr. Cheairs said. “Hopefully I can go back sometime soon to see my family.”