The war in Ukraine has been a major topic in the news for a while now. And while you can find a ton of information about the latest developments, there’s a major crisis that hasn’t been reported on—the hearing loss experienced by Ukrainian refugees.
Many Ukrainian refugees have been exposed to missiles and bombs that can be damaging to hearing health. And many refugees must evacuate their homes quickly, packing only what they can carry. Those who rely on the use of hearing aids are often arriving at the Polish border without their devices, and with no way to recover them.
The hearing loss crisis among refugees is often overlooked, and there is an urgent need for volunteers to help get hearing aids to those who need them.
How War Impacts Hearing Health
Hearing loss is common among veterans and active members of the military. It’s not unusual for members of the military to suffer from tinnitus and hearing loss. And when you take into account that they’re often exposed to harmful decibels from loud blasts, this isn’t a surprise. According to the Hearing Health Foundation, veterans and service members are disproportionately at risk for hearing loss and tinnitus. And the rate of tinnitus among veterans is only increasing as the years go on.
War doesn’t only impact the hearing health of veterans, however. Civilians are exposed to dangerous noise levels in areas where war is taking place, and they often don’t have the time to protect themselves.
Many Ukrainian refugees who’ve fled to their neighboring country of Poland are suffering from tinnitus and hearing loss, and in many cases, these conditions will be permanent. These refugees don’t have access to their routine medical care and doctor visits. And, understandably, it’s often not top of mind for them.
But this is why the work of volunteers is so important. Volunteers have been able to assist the refugees with hearing checks, and they’ve made an effort to provide hearing aids to those who need them—dramatically improving their quality of life.
How NIU Volunteers Are Getting Involved
In early 2022, King Chung, PhD, recognized the need for volunteers to take action and help the Ukrainian refugees who had fled to Poland. Dr. Chung is a professor and audiologist at Northern Illinois University (NIU). She had a trip scheduled to Poland, and she saw this as an opportunity to get involved.
Dr. Chung connected with the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Krakow, which is an organization that provides support, housing, and resources for refugees, regardless of religious affiliation. Along with the JCC and other volunteers from NIU, Dr. Chung was able to test the hearing of more than 150 refugees.
Now, some of these refugees suffered from hearing loss prior to the war. But still, the results were significant. More than half of the refugees who had their hearing tested were experiencing hearing loss. And many of these cases can be attributed to the war. Dr. Chung estimates that around 30 percent of the refugees who were suffering from hearing loss or tinnitus did not experience these conditions prior to being exposed to loud bombs and missiles.
Dr. Chung has continued her efforts to aid the Ukrainian refugees this year. She returned to Poland along with more volunteers in March 2023 to fit many refugees with hearing aids. And this was an emotional experience. Many people were overcome with joy as they realized they were able to hear well again.
Dr. Chung plans to continue to provide aid for the Ukrainian refugees. There is a need for more hearing devices and financial support from volunteers.
How You Can Help
If you’re interested in helping the Ukrainian refugee community on their journey to recovery and better hearing, here’s how you can contribute:
- You can make a donation to the NIU Foundation here. Be sure to select “Audiology-General” from the dropdown menu.
- This step is important—be sure to send an email to the NIU Foundation at email@example.com to specify your name and donation amount for Heart of Hearing for Ukrainian Refugees.
- You can donate hearing aids by emailing Dr. King Chung at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you or a loved one is experiencing hearing loss, our trusted team at Pacific Hearing Services is here to support you.
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