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First-year Cornell veterinary student looks to raise awareness about Ukraine
Maryna Mullerman, DVM class of 2025, discusses raising awareness on the current situation in Ukraine, her interest in international veterinary work, and the importance of veterinary education
Maryna Mullerman is a first-year veterinary student at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Class of 2025. She first left Ukraine in 2013 at the age of 15. More recently, her immediate family came to the US, and her grandparents fled their home in Kharkiv for the Netherlands.
The war in Ukraine
US citizens and those in Europe woke up February 24, 2022, to witness the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Sirens and the massive bombardment sent millions of people to hide in underground shelters, apartment basements, and anywhere they could find safety from the destruction above them.
Now it’s been more than 5 weeks of horror of the brutality of shelling residential towns and cities. Bombs, missiles, and artillery raining down on innocent women, children, and elderly, destroying schools, churches, and hospitals. Greater than 4 million refugees have had to flee for their lives, by car, by bus, packing desperately into trains heading to neighboring Western countries, taking only their few precious possessions, many with their family pets.
We’ve also seen the resolve and resilience of a people, who are gallantly fighting back the siege of their country. Men ages 18 to 60 must sadly leave their wives, mothers, daughters, and children behind as some help them cross the border only to return to valiantly join the fight. We also have seen young and even elderly women refusing to leave, pick up arms to help save their sovereign once peaceful nation.
Mullerman has also been witness to the senseless tragedy unfolding in her beloved country. “Now, Ukraine is always on my mind,” says Mullerman. “I want to raise awareness on the current situation and how it feels coming from Ukraine, being Ukrainian, and living abroad at the moment. I urge people to learn about the war and how they can help those that are suffering because of it.”
One aspect about the current crisis in Ukraine relates to Mullerman’s passion for animals and veterinary support. “One of the things I saw from the very beginning of the conflict is that, even in the midst of fleeing from war, people were taking care of each other and their animals, who are also victims of this war. Many are caring for not only their own pets, but also for wildlife, zoo inhabitants, and abandoned dogs and cats. People have organized into groups that are feeding these animals, taking them in, and transporting them across the border.”
Mullerman looks to help both the people and the animals in Ukraine, providing financial support from afar while she completes her second semester at Cornell. Besides checking in with people she knows in Ukraine, she explains that “there are various organizations who are providing financial and humanitarian aid.” This is occurring not just in the US, but also from organizations around the globe that have partnered with Ukraine. For example, The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria is collecting funds to support Ukrainian zoos and their inhabitants. There’s also the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF), Merck, foundations such as Veterinarians Without Borders, and more that are all trying to coordinate funds.
“In the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, it is standard for all veterinary students, whom after graduation become veterinarians trained and competent in treating at least the 4 major domestic species: cows, horses, dogs, and cats as well as other farm animals, exotic species, and smaller mammals,” noted Paul Maza, DVM, PhD, senior lecturer in anatomy at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and director of FARVets. “I think Maryna’s geared more toward eventually working with dogs and cats, though she will be competent with other species as well,” Maza emphasized.
Mullerman is already sowing the seeds for this goal, working with mentors such as Maza, who was one of her instructors in the Fall 2021 semester. Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine provides problem-based coursework, which provides real-world experience and prepares veterinary students to work with other specialists, collaborate, and communicate effectively on the job.
The first course Maza taught Mullerman was a team-taught, 12-credit course in various aspects of anatomy including clinical and gross and microscopic anatomy. Anatomy as it is being taught at Cornell is case based. “The work is focused, making sure from day one, students can think like clinicians,” said Maza. “We’re approaching anatomy from a more clinical perspective. For example, when we’re talking about the thorax, we’re looking at radiographs. As we’re doing physical exams, we’re looking internal organs of live animals.”
Maza also taught her in the gross anatomy labs, which included small group discussions, a problem-based course which includes team and case-based learning. From early November to the end of December 2021, Mullerman took a course in Cell Biology, tied to a course studying various aspects of pathology. Both were more standard lecture-based courses. From January to March 2022, Maza was again one her instructors of a smaller course in anatomy, which Mullerman, and her fellow students, studied carnivore anatomy, cats compared to dogs, and compared to other carnivores.
Mullerman’s experience prior to Cornell has been with small animals, but her current studies have helped broaden her knowledge. “Prior to vet school, I worked for about a year and a half as a full-time veterinary assistant. I am still interested in working with dogs and cats,” she says, but looks forward to learning about other areas of veterinary medicine too. The knowledge she is gaining now in veterinary school opens the door to many possibilities: “In small animal medicine you can acquire much experience and expertise. In the future, I can apply this knowledge to study of other species and in the spheres of public health, international work, and academia.”
“At the veterinary school, it’s such a pleasure going to school with dogs and cats all around us,” stated Mullerman. “It’s been one of the things that’s driving me forward able to create a bond with these animals.” In addition, she has her own pet dog, Persik, an American Cocker Spaniel mix, she brought from Ukraine as a puppy. “I love him,” Mullerman says joyfully. “He’s just so cute and a part of our family.”
International veterinary work
At the same time that Mullerman is devoting efforts toward helping the people and animals of Ukraine, she also focuses on her veterinary studies at Cornell. Although she has been exploring many areas of veterinary medicine, one of her primary interests is international veterinary medicine. Before starting school at Cornell, she has been able to work abroad in the Netherlands and in her hometown in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Her future plans also include work on an international level, either in Europe or elsewhere. “I think this work is extremely valuable in our ever-changing world, a world that is becoming increasingly connected.” As she witnesses the conflict in Ukraine, she says, “There is so much need for veterinary relief there. International work is something I’m going to dedicate part of my life to,” she says.
One of the opportunities Mullerman wants to pursue is FARVets, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting animal welfare domestically and abroad through sterilization, wellness, and education. Maza is the director of FARVets and has also invited Mullerman to be one of the teaching assistants for an intensive 3-week course he is teaching in summer 2022.
The veterinary college summer course includes topics of anatomy, physiology, and clinical veterinary medicine for high school students from throughout the US and all over the world to gain college credit. The course is part of the pre-studies program at Cornell, which includes 2 sets of programs—small animal practice and conservation medicine. Maza, one of the course leaders in small animal practice, includes lectures, labs, and physical exams in dogs and cats and how they apply to clinical medicine. The students live on campus while attending classes. Each year there are teaching assistants, of which Mullerman will participate as one this summer, 2022. “The TAs are very important to help guide and mentor the students, not only helping them with their coursework, but also to enable them to get accustomed to the aspects of college study habits and help them adjust to the aspects of being a veterinary student, to which many of them strive to be,” stated Maza.
Since Maza initiated FARVets in 2010, its missions have included helping communities abroad with projects such as: providing assistance to adjust to aspects of animal welfare and population issues; helping to plan and implement sterilization clinics for stray dogs and feral cats; and helping families with pets who don’t have access to regular veterinary care. “We also help our local partners in these countries to learn how to implement their own clinics and strive to teach local veterinarians and veterinary students in those countries so they can continue their work, when FARVets is not present. An additional mission of FARVets is to teach clinical skills to our students so that they can continue this type of work on their own once they graduate—an interest of Maryna,” said Maza
FARVets has served several countries in Eastern Europe (Albania, Bulgaria), Central and South America (Mexico, Ecuador, Honduras, Columbia, Bolivia), Africa (Bahrain, Sierra Leone), and Southeast Asia (Thailand, Cambodia). Future trips are planned to Kyrgyzstan, Bhutan, and when the war ends, Ukraine.
Teaching assistant and mentorship and continuing veterinary education
When Mullerman applied for the teaching assistantship, Maza noted her attention to detail, enthusiasm for teaching, and how easily she relates to working with students. “She is very passionate and involved with both academics and extra-curricular activities,” stated Maza. “She is a delight to work with.”
This opportunity to teach others aligns with one of Mullerman’s other passions: mentorship and continuing veterinary education. “My teaching assistance and education interest began when I was at Stonybrook, where I was a teaching assistant for a variety of courses,” stated Mullerman. “I was a student fellow teaching a first-year seminar, both for the Russian language courses, and as a TA for the introductory biology course. I think it’s extremely valuable to pass on veterinary knowledge to the next generation,” she states, adding that she is excited to build relationships with high school students as a TA and gain experience in leading lectures and laboratories, holding office hours, and supporting students. “Mentoring younger students can hone communication skills for future clinical work too,” Mullerman explains, “and teaching is part of an everyday veterinarian’s duties.”
“My first experience with teaching assistants at Cornell was with my courses in neuroanatomy. The transition from having teaching assistants in the basic anatomy class during my first semester to having TAs in my following coursework has been fundamental to my understanding of my veterinary student curriculum. This has made me so much happier to reach out to the TAs who were able to answer my questions, when at times faculty time with students was limited. Therefore, in many cases TAs become instrumental in students’ success. The more we expand this program the better the outcome for a vet student’s education.”
In the meantime, Mullerman focuses on her current studies and doing what she can to help those suffering in Ukraine. She hopes to travel to Ukraine, with FARVets, to help with veterinary-related issues there. “I want to help with whatever I can to rebuild the country that I was born in and where I spent most of my life, with whatever skills I have. That’s something I’m looking forward to, something I think about every day. I try to keep that hope in my heart: a hope for the future of people and animals, living in free and independent Ukraine.”
Veterinary and humanitarian organizations needing donations for Ukraine
If you would like to support veterinary and humanitarian organizations providing relief for Ukraine, please consider the resources included below:
- Vets for Ukraine: Vets for Ukraine is a hub to coordinate aid by European veterinarians to help Ukrainian veterinarians, their families, and animals.
- EAZA: The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria is fundraising for zoos destroyed in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Mykolaiv
- AVMF Disaster Relief for Ukraine: The American Veterinary Medical Foundation is fundraising to protect animal welfare and care providers in the affected areas of Ukraine
- UAnimals: UAnimals is a Ukrainian animal rescue and support organization that is distributing funding and food for domestic animals, zoos, wildlife, and supporting Askania-Nova (Ukraine's largest national park that houses endangered species). Every day this organization shares updates about its work. One can support them on Patreon or through PayPal.
- SIRIUS Animal Shelter: As one of the largest animal shelters in Ukraine, Sirius has a long history of caring for stray animals in Kyiv but needs extra support now more than ever.
- Fundacja ADA: Fundacja ADA is a nonprofit, veterinarian-run Polish foundation that is dedicated to saving animals from war-torn Ukraine. They provide veterinary services, food, and housing to affected animals in the town of Przemysl, Poland, located just next to the border with Ukraine.
Non-veterinary humanitarian organizations helping Ukraine
- RAZOM for Ukraine: This New-York-based Ukrainian organization is advocating for Ukraine and coordinating humanitarian aid and volunteers from the United States.
- Nova Ukraine: Nova Ukraine is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing humanitarian aid to the people of Ukraine.
- UNICEF: UNICEF is supporting health, nutrition, HIV prevention, education, access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and protection for children and families caught in the conflict.
- UN World Food Program: The World Food Programme (WFP) is launching an emergency operation to provide food assistance for people fleeing the conflict both within the country and in neighbouring ones.