DUNews, a documentary film studio covering the life of the community of people who use drugs, has been off the air for a long time. This was due to the fact that the founder of DUNews, Igor Kuzmenko, found himself under occupation in Kherson since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. After the liberation of the city by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, DUNews resumed its activities. The studio plans to talk about the most important thing that is happening now – about the war in Ukraine and how the war affects the lives of the Ukrainian community.
In the first video after a long break in the “Nice People” section, DUNews presents a conversation with Natasha Kaluzhskaya, an activist in the community of people who use drugs from Mariupol, and a paralegal of the All-Ukrainian Association of Women Drug Addicts (VONA).
Natasha has lived in Mariupol for over 20 years. As a client of Substitution Maintenance Therapy herself, she has been involved in developing OST and harm reduction services in the city, as well as helping people who use drugs.
The war found Natasha in Mariupol.
“The first thing I did,” says Natasha. – They wanted to open a commercial substitution therapy office there. And the office was nearby. I immediately ran to this office to pick up the database from there. There was a database from several cities of people living with addiction. I took this computer and my documents.”
Natasha decided that she would not immediately evacuate the city, as she needed to help the program’s clients get substitution therapy first. “And it was 300 people only in Mariupol, and also in the Donetsk region – there is also Kramatorsk, Slavyansk. This is 700 people who are on OST only. Another 5,000 HIV-positive people. And all these people need life-saving drugs,” says Kaluzhskaya.
In a city that was shelled and destroyed on a daily basis, the doctors and medical staff of the program behaved with dignity and professionalism. With the support of the head physician, they allowed to issue RRT for a month at once. They called people. Someone was able to come, someone from the cities adjacent to Mariupol could not get there even then due to the lack of gasoline and hostilities. AIDS Center ART drugs were given immediately for 3 months.
“That day we saw our office nurse for the last time,” Natasha recalls. – At first she worked with us on STD in the office. Olya. Then at the AIDS center. She died. The house was located near Azovstal. And there was no living quarter at all.”
According to Kaluzhskaya, many clients of the SMT program died: “I know that 50 disappeared, 12 definitely died. And when people left Mariupol, some died simply from the fact that there were no medicines and they were in a state of withdrawal. They used for 30, 40 years, and they could not stand it.”
Natasha managed to evacuate from the city on March 15, the day the Mariupol Drama Theater was blown up. Today, she is in Dijon, France receiving prescription RRT from a local pharmacy. Already in France, she continues to help clients of the program from Ukraine who come to the country: she advises, accompanies and helps in all possible ways.
Natasha believes that Ukraine will win this year and she will be able to return to her beloved city. “We dream of meeting again in Mariupol,” Kaluzhskaya says. – He really is so wonderful, warm. I have only bright memories from Mariupol. And I believe that we will return there and build and create there.”