Like many USSR citizens, Soviet Jews had no chance of emigrating in significant numbers for many years. That changed in the 1970s as about 291,000 Soviet Jews left the republic between 1970 and 1988.
Dr. Irina Kellerman-Volk, a dentist at Port Washington’s 3V Dental Associates, was one of them. In 1979, when she was 7 years old, her family immigrated to the United States from Ukraine. But now, in 2022 amid a devastating war in her homeland, she is attempting to give back.
Throughout October, 3V Dental Associates will provide free dental care to Ukrainian refugee children.
“We were feeling a little bit helpless here trying to do our part,” she said. “We’re dentists, so this is the only way we can do something and give back somehow.”
Cleanings and exams will be available to Ukrainian kids between the ages of 2 and 18.
Kellerman-Volk said almost all refugees lack access to basic dental health care. She believes that to enhance refugee children’s dental health, dentists should focus on educating their parents, creating awareness and adopting best practices.
“We started realizing and seeing more and more refugees coming into New York,” she said. “There are so many and we started thinking well what’s happening? What is the government doing for them and what kind of help are they getting?”
In what has become Europe’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, the United States has granted protection to 180,000 Ukrainians, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Nearly 8 million Ukrainians have been displaced and over 6 million civilians, mostly women and children, have fled the country.
For Kellerman-Volk, whose husband is also from Ukraine, it has been devastating to watch their homeland be destroyed.
“Just knowing that our homes, where we were born, they are gone,” she said. “It is mind-boggling to think that our home is gone. It doesn’t exist anymore. [My husband’s home] city has been blown up and so it’s just surreal to us to think about. My grandparents’ graves were there and they’re gone.”
The difficulty the practice faces now, she said, is getting the word out. They are solely relying on word-of-mouth marketing as they have not partnered with any organizations to spread the news.
“We have a bunch of Ukrainian patients in our practice,” she said. “People that know people, other refugees. Hopefully, we can get the word out that we’re here and we want to help them in any way we can.”
Some doctors at the office know and understand Russian, a language widely spoken and understood by Ukrainians. Kellerman-Volk said that giving kids someone to communicate with in a native tongue can offer a significant psychological boost and shows that others care about them.
“These children lost everything, their friends, some of their family members,” she said. “To be completely left with nothing. I can’t even imagine something like that.”