Tufts Scholar at Risk—Ukrainian Vladlen Ushakov

Veterinarian aids Ukrainian colleagues and animals while serving Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine as international fellow
A young family of three: father, mother, and son, stand on a deck with a pond behind them.
Tufts Scholar at Risk Vladlen Ushakov with wife Nataliia and son Oleksi. Photo: Nataliia Ushakova

In early August last year, amid Russia’s active shelling of Odesa, Ukraine, where Dr. Vladlen Ushakov makes his home, he fled with his wife, Nataliia, and their five-year-old son.

Ushakov, president of the Ukrainian Small Animal Veterinary Association (USAVA) and an associate professor at Ukraine’s Vinnytsia National Agrarian University, headed to Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, where he serves as an international veterinary fellow in the dean’s office as a Tufts Scholar at Risk. 

Since 2011, Tufts has participated in the program, a global network which finds temporary professional positions abroad for academics, artists, and public intellectuals facing danger in their home countries. This year, Ushakov is one of four Tufts Scholars at Risk, which allows the appointees to continue their work safely while educating and supporting the communities in which they are placed.

Following Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, many of its residents fled, while Ushakov remained with nine coworkers to continue running his private veterinary practice in Odesa.

With support from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, among others, they purchased supplies, provided assistance to the organization of vaccination and sterilization points at the country’s borders, and sterilized the abandoned and stray animals in the streets. They also worked with Cummings School, among other institutions, to find veterinarians who may help address the veterinary needs in the region.

Ultimately, Ushakov decided to flee Ukraine for the safety of his family and the opportunity to inform his American colleagues about the need for assistance in his homeland. “The people who stayed there are heroes,” he says.

After leaving Ukraine and arriving at Cummings School, Ushakov has maintained oversight of the limited staff running his Odesa practice. He also administers an extensive USAVA program, titled BASED, which supports Ukrainian veterinarians and pets, backed by Cummings School. BASED helps to fill needs of Ukrainian veterinary Businesses, Animals, Shelters, Education, and rebuilding from the war’s Destruction.

“Under the BASED program, we have provided work and funding for 254 clinics across Ukraine,” Ushakov explains, as they engaged international charitable organizations, and were supported by nearly 100 donating organizations, to assist some 500 veterinarians. “This would not have been possible without the assistance of Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine,” he says.

The impact of this assistance cannot be overstated, according to Ushakov. Over the course of the last nine months, 62,000 animals were vaccinated and almost 30,000 received microchips. In addition, together with Cummings School, Tufts University organized distance learning for students of veterinary faculties in Ukraine. Some 1,400 students are currently involved at 14 universities. With courses taught in both English and Ukrainian, the program helps students and teachers improve their knowledge and skills in veterinary medicine.

“It is so amazing how the AVMA, AVMF and Cummings School helps my country, colleagues, and animals of Ukraine,” he explains. “We are grateful for all the grant money and the assistance.”

While Cummings School and other benefactors have provided life-sustaining assistance to Ukrainian veterinarians and animals, Vladen and his wife, Nataliia, joined the School’s staff last September. 

Vladen has served as a part-time professor and surgeon at Tufts at Tech Community Veterinary Hospital and Henry and Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals, where Nataliia has served in several capacities, from the front desk to medical records to the operating room.

“The decision to accept the offer to go to the U.S. and work for a year at Cummings School was not easy for us,” Nataliia explains, “… However, after nine months of working and studying at Foster Hospital, I do not regret our decision and I am very glad that we had such an incredible opportunity to work and improve our skills at one of the top U.S. universities.”

Dr. Greg Wolfus, director of Tufts at Tech, welcomed Vladen to the Clinic. “Vlad brought a cultural awareness of Ukraine and promoted the need for animal aid,” says Wolfus. “He has a great spirit and brings such a positive attitude to each conversation. Sharing traditional Ukrainian customs and foods, we enjoyed celebrating their winter holiday and our Tufts at Tech winter party.”

Vladlen acknowledges the welcoming nature that he found in Grafton. “The team that took care of me is professional, dedicated, and committed to teaching students and treating animals,” he says. “Working with them has been a tremendous experience that I am so grateful for … I work and study every day and hone my skills and abilities, and I will share what I have learned here with my colleagues in Ukraine when my family and I return.”

Nataliia has become a valuable member of the Foster Hospital staff, according to Senior Veterinary Technician Gail Berthiaume. “Nataliia has been a strong asset to our team,” she says. “I have been so impressed with her performance and adjustment to our country, department, and hospital. She makes the best impression in all situations, is respected, and a joy to work with.”

Similarly, Nataliia quickly learned her new roles and has come to appreciate her coworkers.

“I’m impressed by the incredibly well-coordinated and professional work of the Foster Hospital team,” says Nataliia, who is “in love” with her current job as a surgical technician. “The team of surgeons, interns, and surgical technicians is the best I’ve ever worked with,” noting how grateful she is for the support and assistance of all her colleagues, especially her supervisors, Berthiaume and David Mutlu. 

“Nataliia has had valuable contributions throughout her many roles,” says Mutlu. “… she is so humble and a beacon of positivity … the kindness displayed by Nataliia and Vlad is a model example of how we should treat each other.”

Profoundly influenced by the determination and grace of the Ushakovs, the Cummings School community shares with Ukrainians in the hope for an expeditious end to the war and its tragedies, so peace can be restored and the lives of those affected can be rebuilt.