‘I believe we’ll pass through this dark period’ – the perspective of a dentist in Ukraine

'I believe we'll pass through this dark period' – the perspective of a Ukrainian dentist

Leo Jurkiw interviews Stella Benjaminova, the owner of a dental clinic in Ukraine, to hear about how they are surviving during the ongoing war with Russia.

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Stella Beniaminova, the owner of Stedley Clinic, the most prestigious private dental clinic in Kyiv and Ukraine.

Stella, could we begin by asking you to introduce yourself?

I’m Sella Beniaminova, I was born in Kyiv where I took my dental degree at the Kyiv Medical University. Twenty-five years ago I opened my private dental clinic in Kyiv when, just when after perestroika, it became possible to begin a private business. My clinic was one of the first to open in Ukraine.

Then ten years ago, because the clinic was very successful, I was financially able to create the Stedley Art Foundation in order to help Ukrainian artists and the Ukrainian National Museum. I realised that it was not enough to just earn to consume – we need to aspire to greater things.

The foundation supports artists, to give them the freedom to create. We now have a large collection of Ukrainian art in our gallery which has been visited by many ambassadors and world leaders including the Papal Nuncio. Following the visit of the Papal ambassador, we donated a religious art work to Pope Francis which now hangs in the Lateran University in the Vatican.

You see, Pope Francis has helped Ukrainians a lot since the war in Donetsk started in 2014 with humanitarian aid and medicines. This is why I particularly wanted to give the Pope this present as a symbol of my gratitude.

What is your perspective on the situation in Ukraine?

This war has divided people into who is for Ukraine and who is just for themselves. Who is for good and who is for evil.

You can now see who is ethical and who is corrupt – there is only black and white, there is no grey any more. It is so important for people like me who are working from the outside to be able to work with people we can trust in Ukraine, because it is so easy to lose support here if things go wrong.

Regarding myself, my clinic is okay. I don’t need charity, we can earn money and manage by ourselves.

But I also have my art foundation where I support artists and that’s more problematic. Art is not for today and there are not many people interested in buying art at this time. But I am sure that we will survive because God is with us and we believe in ourselves so I think everything will be okay.

The way that I look at it is that the war has been going on now for over two months. No one thought Ukraine would survive two weeks. So in my opinion, every day that Ukraine continues to resist Russia’s invasion is a victory.

Yes, great Russia against small Ukraine! But the spirit of Ukraine and the bravery of its soldiers and people is incredible!

Ukraine dental clinic

Tell us about your clinic.

The philosophy of our clinic is: ‘More prevention, less intervention.’ We believe in looking after people’s dental health, not just doing emergency or tourist dentistry.

We continuously review our patients and our outcomes are equivalent to the standard of Swiss clinics with a success rate of 98%.

My clinic is over three floors with two surgeries for examination and hygiene. We have ten dentists each with just 300 patients, and one dental therapist. Also, we have specialists in orthopaedic dentistry (Procera), veneers, endodontics, implant dentistry (Nobel Biocare), and orthodontics (including Invisalign).

We have our own private laboratory which works just for our patients, and a teaching facility where our doctors give masterclasses. We also have masterclasses from many world dental leaders from places like Israel and Turkey, who come to teach our doctors.

Our patients mostly have been coming to us for the last twenty years.

ukraine dental clinic

How did the Russian attack affect you and your business?

A lot of our patients come from wealthier backgrounds. So when the war started, because they could, a lot of them ran! They took their money and ran. We had no patients and for the first month after the start of the war we didn’t work.

One of my doctors worked as a volunteer at another clinic in Kyiv just providing emergency treatment. I stayed in Kyiv, but for the first ten days I was afraid.

Every time the air raid warning went off, I was afraid because the Russians were trying to occupy the city and we didn’t know what would happen.

During that period there was a curfew because there were a lot of Russian infiltrators in Kyiv. During that time I didn’t even think about the clinic – I only thought about how to survive.

Then I accepted that I might well die, but that was all right. We all have to die some time. Once I accepted that, I stopped being so scared and started living just one day at a time.

Some of my doctors had left Kyiv, but some doctors and staff were still here. So we reopened the clinic and began seeing patients again with a 50% discount for emergency treatment and oral hygiene.

On 28 March I went to the beauty salon to get my hair done and a manicure and pedicure. It was as if I had been born again! I had such a good feeling after visiting the salon that I thought that perhaps I can also give my patients that same feeling, and that we all can start to live again.

So on 1 April I put an announcement in Facebook that the clinic was reopening, but just for two days a week. Income is at 30% of what it is normally, but it’s enough to cover expenses and to pay my staff. We don’t need humanitarian help, we can work and take care of ourselves.

Just to finish off, what are your hopes and expectations for the future?

Well, I don’t really want to think about nuclear war. But, I think that Putin is capable of doing anything. So anything could happen.

In Kyiv my friends and I have adapted and we live just for today. But nobody other than God knows what will be.

Nevertheless, I believe that Ukraine will pass through this dark period in its history. We will rebuild the future and it will be a great future because this war has made us stronger and wiser.

Read more on the war in Ukraine:

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