HIV on Ukraine’s frontline: Soldier who sought escape in battle

HIV on the front linePicture copyright BBC/Olesya Volkova

“I’m HIV constructive; I already had HIV after I joined a volunteer battalion to struggle separatists in japanese Ukraine,” says Ukrainian warfare veteran Vasyl. “I had no concern for my life. I had nothing to lose.”

Vasyl will not be his actual title, however that is the story of a person with HIV who volunteered for the entrance line and was shocked by the extent of ignorance that different troopers had about his virus.

When he travelled east, Vasyl tore up his HIV standing certificates. The one particular person he advised was the commanding officer of his fight unit combating Russian-backed rebels.

“My commander advised me to put in writing ‘B20’ on my left hand after I’d go into battle. If I have been wounded or killed, medics would know what I had.”

They’d know what B20 meant, however his fellow troopers didn’t.

Picture copyright BBC/Olesya Volkova

Whereas Vasyl stored his HIV constructive standing quiet, he was startled to search out lots of his comrades exchanging meals or $10 in return for intercourse close to the entrance line.

Was the entrance line turning into a hotspot for spreading HIV, hepatitis C and different infectious and sexually transmitted illnesses (STDs), he questioned.

Individuals with HIV face stigma in Ukraine. And but it has the second-highest fee of HIV an infection in Europe behind Russia and, regardless of common public campaigns, there’s nonetheless a level of ignorance about how the virus is unfold.

Vasyl knew his HIV may solely be handed on by means of sexual activity or blood transfusion, however he was fearful what would occur if his colleagues came upon.

“Ninety per cent of my comrades did not know what HIV/Aids meant. They have been armed and will have killed me if I might advised them,” says the ex-soldier.

When he took his antiretroviral drugs, his comrades assumed he was taking unlawful stimulants.

Picture copyright BBC/Olesya Volkova

Ukraine’s fee of HIV an infection might have slowed down, however it nonetheless struggles to curb the unfold of the virus.

“Individuals in danger embody principally intercourse staff, drug addicts and males who’ve intercourse with different males. Servicemen and warfare veterans not too long ago have joined them,” says Krystyna Rivera from the charity 100% Life, which goals to cease the unfold of the epidemic.

HIV in Ukraine

  • 244,000 individuals* in Ukraine have been dwelling with HIV in 2018
  • 1% of 15-49 year-olds have HIV*
  • 47% of individuals with HIV knew their standing
  • 19,000 individuals have been newly contaminated in 2018

Supply: Ukraine well being ministry/

*UN figures say 360,000 individuals in Ukraine had HIV in 2018, which is 1.5% of 15-49 year-olds

Learn extra: Ukraine’s youngest HIV campaigner

There isn’t any dependable data on the unfold of STDs in japanese Ukraine, the place the military has been combating Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas area since 2014. The warfare has claimed the lives of 13,000 individuals and wounded over 30,000.

However Vasyl says troopers didn’t hassle to practise protected intercourse, even with a prostitute. “Half the volunteer fighters felt like they have been on a suicide mission, in order that they could not care.”

The native girls had misplaced their houses and jobs and had seen their lives and people of their households torn aside. Intercourse for them was only a strategy to survive, he believes.

Picture copyright BBC/Olesya Volkova

When he was on the entrance, HIV exams weren’t included within the military’s common well being screening for volunteer troopers. Issues have improved, however the defence ministry has not responded to the BBC’s request for particulars.

The primary impediment is social stigma, as individuals are loath to search out out whether or not they have HIV. Having the virus in a small city or village may result in gossip, condemnation and being ostracised.

Whereas two-thirds of instances are handed on by means of unprotected intercourse, the well being ministry says one in 5 instances of an infection come from injecting medication.

The bulk of people that learn about their HIV are afraid of social isolation, says psychologist Hanna Kuzmenko, who has labored with HIV-positive sufferers for 20 years at a regional medical remedy centre in central Ukraine.

Picture copyright BBC/Olesya Volkova

“Two to a few per cent of these with HIV by no means inform anybody. They dwell in fixed concern and below stress. I’ve some sufferers who’ve solely confessed to me,” she says.

The important thing for Ms Kuzmenko is for higher and clearer data, within the huge cities as a lot as villages.

For a embellished warfare veteran like Vasyl, it was fight that helped him take care of the frustration and anger within the years after analysis.

However he speaks of 1 life-changing second throughout the battle that shook him to the core.

“We have been on obligation patrol. I went to heat up and was chatting to my comrade who wished to remain within the automobile just a few moments extra to maintain heat. Then a missile hit our automotive. My comrade was useless.”

Picture copyright BBC/Olesya Volkova

When he wakened in a navy hospital, he couldn’t imagine he had survived.

He has since taken fewer dangers and now views life as extra treasured. “I wished to dwell! My life made sense.”

Illustrations by BBC’s Olesya Volkova

HIV the world over

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Media captionThe BBC travelled to a city in Pakistan the place 900 youngsters have HIV
  • 37.9m individuals have been dwelling with HIV on the earth in 2018
  • 770,000 died from HIV-related causes in 2018 and 1.7m have been newly contaminated
  • 25.7m individuals dwell with HIV in Africa
  • New HIV infections fell from 2000-18

Supply: World Well being Group

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