'The situation was horrid' - refugee doctor on life inside war-torn Ukraine

Dr Tirej Brimo of Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge

Dr Tirej Bromo, an emergency doctor at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, volunteered to help set up a medical clinic in Ukraine between April and May. - Credit: Abbey Hespin

A Kurdish refugee turned doctor who volunteered to help people fleeing war in Ukraine has described the “horrid” situation he faced in the country. 

Dr Tirej Brimo travelled to Ukraine to volunteer with a medical team, first at two border crossings before moving to Lviv to help set up a medical clinic. 

“At Lviv train station, the situation was horrid,” he said.  

“Every day we got dozens of trains from eastern Ukraine - trains full of injured people, and trains full of refugees who just wanted to flee and leave everything behind.” 

Tirej, an emergency doctor at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, spent seven weeks in Ukraine between April and May. 

While there, Tirej saw thousands of people queuing to cross over the Ukrainian-Polish border and dealt with issues from wounds to emergencies. 

“In my first week, I saw 339 patients,” he said. 

Dr Tirej Brimo at Lviv medical clinic in Ukraine

Dr Tirej Brimo at his medical clinic near Lviv railway station, where he described the situation as "horrid". - Credit: Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

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“Burdened faces and tearful eyes were what the majority of our patients brought into the consultation room. 

“It only took a few seconds into the consultation for these emotions to come out; they had been through a lot.” 

Tirej added: “It was really difficult when people came into the train station to collect relatives who had died in the conflict and as a doctor, this is where I felt most helpless.” 

Tirej was among “hundreds of good-hearted volunteers” who started their day with a smile, and ended with prayer in a move of resilience against war. 

But Tirej is no stranger to war, having fled Syria as a medical student at Aleppo University in 2012 before arriving in the UK as a refugee a year later. 

“In the Syrian war, I ran away; I was a student and felt helpless,” he recalled. 

“In Ukraine, I chose a different destiny; I chose to be there and stand up for what I believe in.” 

Dr Tirej Brimo in Lviv, Ukraine

Dr Tirej Brimo helped establish a medical clinic in Lviv while he was in Ukraine. - Credit: Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Overcrowded streets and ambulances working day and night were some of the aspects that made Tirej realise the impact war has had on Ukraine. 

But he hopes that the care he and volunteers provided in Ukraine could help shine a glimmer of light on an uncertain situation. 

“War is like a nightmare you can't wake up from, while praying for a miracle that just doesn't happen,” said Tirej. 

“We hope that these few minutes of care will one day be a remembered as a small light in our patients’ journey, their journey to heal from all that happened.”