Making the impossible possible in Ukraine: A conversation with Dmytro Sherembei

Learn more about Hannah Johnson.
Hannah Johnson
Program Manager, Global Policy
George W. Bush Institute
Dmytro Sherembei
Guest Author
Head of Coordination Council of CO "100 PERCENT LIFE" Dmytro Sherembei of Ukraine provides a testimonial at the PEPFAR at 20 event in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 24, 2023. (Photo by Grant Miller Photography for the George W. Bush Presidential Center)

As the largest patient-led organization in Ukraine, 100 Percent Life is a shining example of the important role that civil society plays in combatting HIV. 100 Percent Life works alongside people living with HIV to ensure that Ukrainians have access to lifesaving treatment.  

For over seventeen years, Ukraine has partnered with the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to strengthen health systems and public supply chains to address the devastating impact of HIV in the country. 100 Percent Life is one of the many organizations that work with PEPFAR and the Ukrainian government to ensure that people living with HIV can live healthy lives.  

In February 2023, one year after Russia’s devastating invasion of Ukraine, Dmytro Sherembei and Valeriia Rachynska joined the Bush Institute’s PEPFAR at 20 Celebration to share the work of 100 Percent Life.  

One year later, I had the opportunity to catch up with Dmytro to learn more about PEPFAR’s role in the country and the importance of U.S. engagement with Ukraine. Read our conversation below.  

Hannah Johnson: How has the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) impacted Ukraine since the partnership began over 17 years ago? Why is PEPFAR important?  

Dmytro Sherembei: PEPFAR has played a major role in saving Ukraine from the global AIDS epidemic. The year PEPFAR began its work in Ukraine, the epidemics were flourishing on the streets of Ukraine. Testing and treatment were unavailable, and every person diagnosed with HIV was facing a delayed death sentence. It was just unclear how quickly that person would die. I was one of those people diagnosed with HIV.  

That was over 20 years ago. We all happened to be in that situation where we had to survive against all odds. On behalf of all people living with HIV, I would like to thank PEPFAR for saving each and every one of us. Not only did the program save us, but it saved the whole country of Ukraine from HIV and AIDS. In doing so, it stopped the pace of HIV spread and became a dam protecting millions of Ukrainians. 

Hannah Johnson: Despite serious challenges, PEPFAR Ukraine and partners like 100 Percent Life have been incredibly resilient and continued to provide services for HIV. How can the United States and Ukraine address the health and security needs of Ukrainians together?  

Dmytro Sherembei: There is one example that illustrates PEPFAR’s role in Ukraine, particularly during the hostilities. At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, PEPFAR helped save more than 140,000 people. It was the time when the government assistance program was stopped, international assistance was stopped, and what happened was that Ukraine didn’t have enough medicines to provide for adults, children, and the elderly, and these were medicines that had to be taken daily.  

We were facing two challenges at the same time. On the one hand, our cities were being bombed, and on the other hand, people had to somehow survive without medicine.  

The collaboration between 100 Percent Life, the Ukrainian government and PEPFAR made the impossible possible. Within a very short period of time, we were able to purchase, deliver, and distribute 140,000 courses of treatment throughout Ukraine. Our social workers rode bicycles, boats, and walked to get the medicines to the people who needed them.   

During war, medicines can be as important as a bulletproof vest and helmet. They save lives from imminent death. This example shows us that such collaboration can deliver results quickly and effectively. PEPFAR has acted as an airbag, helping governmental and non-governmental organizations save lives in the most difficult moments. This mandate proved effective when we were bombed. 

Hannah Johnson: It has been two years since Russia’s brutal full-scale invasion of your country. What is your message to Americans regarding our bilateral relations, in global health and beyond?   

Dmytro Sherembei: In the most difficult and darkest times, in the most difficult times for individuals and the country, only those who need you the most will stay with you. For me, as a Ukrainian, it was a revelation that people from another continent, who are thousands of miles away from us, turned out to be closer to us than those who have always been close to us. That people speak a different language, but they share with us the same values, the same principles and the same approaches that we have had during the war.  

I express my gratitude for every cent spent, for every word of encouragement, for every political support that the American people have given and continue to give to Ukrainians. This investment saves the world from the global evil facing the Ukrainians, which is Russia as the evil number one in the world.  

I want this investment to return to every American household as the happiness of their children, the clear sky without rockets and bombs, so that their mothers and fathers have a happy old age and are happy. They deserve it for all they have done for the world, not only for Ukraine, throughout the history of the United States.  

We also deserve this bright future, so that we no longer hear the sound of bombs and shelling, and so that our children are not afraid to go to school. Our friendship is based on principles that have stood the test of time. It’s a commitment to freedom, human rights, independence, and democracy.  

We are ready to fight with the support of the United States until we achieve victory. The United States is for us a good example of how to fight and achieve the desired result of living in a free democratic country.