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  • Jessie Moss

Devan Tatlow’s Internship: Fighting Cancer During a War


Tatlow, left, with the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova / Credits: Devan Tatlow


For the last eight months, Devan Tatlow (‘24) has interned as the U.S. outreach coordinator for Ukraine’s largest children’s cancer charity, Tabletochki. The organization serves as the “backbone of childhood cancer care in Ukraine,” according to Tatlow.


“We fund the treatment of almost every childhood cancer patient in [Ukraine], we [build] hospitals, conduct professional development, pay the salaries for Ukrainian oncologists and more,” he said.


Tatlow assists the organization and works closely with its founder, Olya Kudinenko, to set up U.S. operations and maintain available healthcare during the war in Ukraine. Involving the U.S. in Tabletochki’s mission means fundraising, helping Ukrainian patients in U.S. hospitals, and sharing their work with U.S. organizations as well as the U.S. government.


Throughout his time with Tabletochki, Tatlow has been instrumental in getting the organization a US 501(c)(3) designation. This label recognizes Tabletochki as an American charity — called Kids of Ukraine — and allows it to receive tax-exempt funding from American organizations, such as St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, more easily.


Tatlow also spoke at the Congressional Childhood Cancer Caucus last fall, raised $10,000 from the American Association for Cancer Research, and is currently working to find a partnership between Tabletochki and President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot program.


Though Tatlow was not involved with the organization prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 of last year, his responsibilities have been dramatically affected by the war. “What we like to say is that we help kids fight cancer, while their country fights a war,” he said.


The organization has evacuated more than 1,500 families with a childhood cancer patient and is doing its best to “bring kids from the remaining 500 families from the frontlines into safer territory,” such as Lviv and Kyiv.


Even with children in safer zones, providing medical assistance is still arduous. “You can’t provide cancer care in a subway station,” Tatlow said. “That is what we’ve had to do — a lot of pediatric oncology care in bomb shelters and subway stations — and it’s not sustainable.”


“The Russian military has been targeting Ukraine’s healthcare infrastructure,” he explained, often in attacks that have little military significance.


These war crimes included the striking of the children’s hospital in Mariupol by Russian missiles, which killed many patients and staff. Oksana Leontieva, a doctor who had a lengthy history with Tabletochki, was “killed by a Russian missile on her way to work,” according to Tatlow.


The targeting of Ukrainian children and healthcare workers is not the only difficulty the war has imposed. Complications arising from the invasion have hurt Tabletochki financially, who prior to the war “received almost all funding from Ukraine.”


“Post-full-scale invasion, people just don’t have the ability to donate the way they used to, you know, they’re fighting for their lives,” Tatlow said, “We’ve had to rely on the international community and really become much more of a global organization.”


Tabletochki has been able to, with the help of this international support, maintain a budget roughly equal to what they worked with before the full-scale invasion. Still, Tatlow explained that they have many more expenses because of the war.


For Tatlow, who is himself a childhood cancer survivor, pediatric cancer care has a special significance. “I had acute promyelocytic leukemia twice, and so I’m very passionate about childhood cancer and helping other kids facing the same thing.”


Though the job can be immensely rewarding, the goals of Tabletochki are difficult to achieve. Especially in the midst of the war, Tatlow often finds himself disheartened and emotionally exhausted. To his frustration, his internship also carries the same perils as many office jobs, such as hours of paperwork and reliance on the often slow-moving U.S. bureaucracy.


Despite these challenges, Tatlow is grateful for his opportunity to take part in this cause. “I knew I had to do something to help,” Tatlow said, recalling the first time he met the founder, Kudinenko, at a conference. And from speaking before Congress to rallying critical support, it is clear that his impact has been profound.


Tatlow also urges the Walls community to support childhood cancer patients in Ukraine. “If you have the ability to donate, you can go to tabletochki.org/en or kids-of-ukraine.org. You can also email me at devan@kids-of-ukraine. org if you have any more questions.”

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