Native Ukrainian doctor gives back to his country
He leads Upstate’s urology department now, but 30 years ago, Gennady Bratslavsky, MD, was a 19-year-old immigrant and nursing school graduate from Ukraine who spoke no English. He and his parents settled in Albany, where his uncle lived. Bratslavsky became a U.S. citizen and kept in touch with his friends from Ukraine over the years.
After the Russian invasion began in February 2022, Bratslavsky teamed with Alex Golubenko, a childhood friend from Ukraine who is now a doctor of physical therapy in New York City. They created helpfreeukraine.com and committed to sending 100 percent of donations toward medical supplies for Ukraine.
Bratslavsky’s wife, Katya Bratslavsky, is an artist who is selling her paintings to raise money and has put more than $300,000 toward the medical relief effort so far. She was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and lived most of her childhood in Moscow until her family moved to Central New York in 1992. Katya Bratslavsky donated one of her paintings -- of sunflowers, a symbol of Ukraine -- to the Zelenskyy family; Gennady Bratslavsky met the wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in September at a charity event in New York City marking the launch of her Olena Zelenska Foundation.
Bratslavsky traveled to Ukraine to deliver first-aid kits in the spring of 2022, gas masks and satellite phones. Later he and Golubenko shipped a truckload of donated medications and supplies he collected from Upstate, Crouse Hospital, Auburn Community Hospital, Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca and Mohawk Valley Health System in Utica.
Later, working with World of Connections founder Charita Shteynberg, they secured a large donation of medications from two pharmaceutical companies. Working with several friends, they shipped more than $100 million worth of medications to Ukraine that were distributed to hospitals in every region. World of Connections is a group that provides liaison services for nonprofit organizations.
Using donations through Help Free Ukraine, Bratslavsky and Golubenko have so far shipped more than a dozen ambulances and trucks to first responders in Ukraine, along with hundreds of pallets of humanitarian supplies, including medical supplies and food.
One of the first ambulances went to a cancer center in the western city of Lviv. Another went to a children’s hospital in the capital of Kyiv, where another of Bratslavsky’s childhood friends now works as a pediatric orthopedic trauma surgeon.
Bratslavsky says the Russian invasion “turned my world upside down. I had not realized how deep my roots were in Ukraine and how much I loved the land that brought me up.”
Since early August, he and his wife have hosted three children from Ukraine. Combined with the Bratslavskys’ three children, the house is full. Every dinner “feels like a birthday party,” Bratslavsky says.
His fundraising efforts continue through helpfreeukraine.com.
This article appears in the spring 2023 issue of Upstate Health magazine.