Did you know that over 7,000 Slavic community members live in Fresno? They represent families from across the former Soviet Union and identify as Ukrainian, Moldovan, Belarussian, and Russian. Many came over as refugees because of religious persecution in their home countries, but have found a permanent home here in Fresno. Olena Komisarova, one of our COVID-19 Equity Project (CEP) Community Health Workers (CHW), is from Ukraine and works with many of our Slavic families.
“Four years ago, my then 7-year-old son, 2-year-old daughter, husband, and I immigrated to the United States because a war broke out in my country. When we arrived in Fresno, FIRM supported us by buying dishes and bathroom accessories for our apartment. I’ve been with FIRM for over two years working with the Slavic community. In the future, I want to become a registered nurse because I love helping people.”
Although Olena’s role as FIRM’s CHW is recent, she has worked with FIRM with our Community Gardens program. In addition to being a mother and wife, Olena is also a student at Fresno City College hoping to work in the healthcare field. So, Olena’s transition into working as a CHW was a natural one — and she has enjoyed every moment of it.
“When Christine said FIRM was hiring for CHWs, I immediately decided to apply because I was already working with Slavic families. They often asked me for help and advice about health issues. In our community, many people were getting sick at the beginning of the pandemic, and several people died. As a CHW, I want to help people get access to the health care they need and try to stop this pandemic, and COVID-19 related deaths.”
One of the misconceptions that Olena has come across with Slavic families is the belief that masks don’t help or protect people from COVID-19. In Olena’s experience, a lot of this is due to misinformation by various bloggers on social networking sites Slavic communities are more prone to subscribe to. While elders and working-age people tend to adhere to COVID-19 precautions, Olena has found that many young people (16-20-year-olds) are less careful and do not take the pandemic seriously. Therefore, Olena provides accurate and credible COVID-19 information to the Slavic community so they can share this information with their family members, including FIRM’s free COVID-19 testing services in partnership with CEP.
Providing the community with free COVID-19 testing has been one of the best tools in combating this pandemic, the most important one is getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Olena shares an incident where someone didn’t even know they had COVID-19 until getting tested at FIRM’s COVID-19 testing site.
“I asked her about her health and how her family was feeling, to which she replied that it was not very important that she felt that she probably had a cold. Then I asked her what kind of symptoms she was experiencing. She said she only had a little cold and back pain, but I immediately recognized these symptoms as very similar to COVID-19 symptoms. After convincing her to get tested for COVID-19 at FIRM, she finally agreed. I met her at our testing site and it turned out that her test demonstrated she was positive for COVID-19. She was very scared and cried. I talked to her for a long time on the phone and calmed her down. I told her that everyone would be fine, but that in order to keep her family healthy, she needed to be in isolation. During isolation, I helped her by delivering food boxes from FIRM, and FIRM staff helped her fill out documents for state aid. After recovering, she was very grateful and happy that we worked with FIRM and that we could help people financially and mentally. It is very important for people to get help and support. I was happy that I could help someone out. I want to help even more people.”