This article was originally published on Woman’s Day Magazine NZ
In 2022, our recruitment team approached Queenstown nurse Maia Blenkinsop, to ask her to go to Ukraine, on her second medical aid assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). When she was asked if she could be ready to leave in two weeks, she said she could not. “But I can be ready in three weeks.”.
As early has her teens, Maia, 42, dreamed of being a humanitarian aid worker after reading an inspiring book, which is how she found herself in South Sudan with MSF in 2020. But Ukraine was an even better fit for the Canadian born nurse because her maternal grandparents were Ukrainian, so Maia is fluent in Russian and can understand some Ukrainian.
After arranging leave from her role as a rural nurse at Twizel Medical Centre, Maia flew to Kyiv in October last year.
“The first thing I did upon arriving was install the air raid app on my phone. Although when the sirens went off on my first night, I wasn’t sure if I should go to the basement or stay in my room, but I was soon able to sleep through anything.”
Moving on from Kyiv, Maia travelled east by train to meet her team in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.
“Kharkiv had been severely bombarded, With one of the city’s top suburbs right on the front line. Many of the apartment buildings had their fronts blown off by missiles, so you could see right into people’s flats and virtually every window was broken or taped up. There was so much destruction.”