Lending a Helping Hand

A Ukrainian flag with messages of support for refugees arriving at the California U.S./Mexico border


You will usually find Charisse Tabotabo ’19 (MSN). ’21 (DNP) working in USD’s Dickinson Nursing Simulation Center doing such tasks as writing and videotaping virtual reality scenarios.

But recently, she and several faculty and students from the Hahn School of Nursing volunteered their time to assist on medical missions to help Ukrainian refugees at the California U.S./Mexico border.

“My boyfriend is Ukrainian,” says Tabotabo. “Once we found out the U.S. was going to be taking in refugees and we heard about the medical mission, we knew immediately that we wanted to help.”

“I’m Russian-speaking,” says USD Nursing Professor Julia Appis. “I was a Russian immigrant, so as soon as I heard about this, I knew I had to help. We have a lot of loved ones in Ukraine, so it’s very dear to my heart.”

Appis still vividly recalls the anxiety she felt as a little girl who didn’t speak English immigrating to the U.S. from Russia. She has empathy for the refugees.

“Just by talking to them, they have a lot of anxiety and a lot of fear of the unknown,” she says. “As a nurse, I assess kids that are dehydrated or have other issues like stomach ailments,” says third-year Doctor of Nursing Practice student Vera Nikolaychuk, who is also Ukrainian. “I help at the hubs — the little shelters that we have for the refugees. We provide them with showers in these hubs. They can get a hot meal. I also help with the laundry and with the kids when the parents need to take a nap.”

Nikolaychuk said she met a lot of families during her time as a volunteer.

“One family, both parents were deaf and they had little kids with them,” she says. “We took them in and tried to communicate with them with sign language and texting — it was pretty unique.”

She also helped a family she knew personally who arrived in Mexico with a baby afflicted with cancer.

“It was amazing how people came together to get this baby from the airport to the ambulance, and then from the ambulance across the border and to a hospital in San Diego. That wouldn’t have happened without the doctors, nurses, respiratory technicians — all the volunteers,” she says.

Despite the Biden Administration’s change allowing Ukrainian refugees direct access to the U.S., there will still be a need for volunteers. USD Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science faculty and students say they will remain committed to helping however they can. — Carol Scimone

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