Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Milica "Mimi" Kirovska, August 26, 2020

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

 

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00:00:00 - Responsibilities as the Peace Corps Medical Director in North Macedonia and Kosovo

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Partial Transcript: Hello. Today is August 26, 2020. This is Candice Wiggum and I'm a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from North Macedonia. And I served in 2009 to 2012. Today, I get the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Milica--Dr. Mimi, as we call her--uh, Kirovska who has been with the Peace Corps as Medical Director in North Macedonia for 16 years.

Segment Synopsis: Kirovska has been a physician for over 20 years. For the last 12 years, Kirovska has worked exclusively for the Peace Corps. Since 2016, Kirovska has also served the Volunteers in Kosovo.

Keywords: Peace Corps staff

Subjects: Kosovo; North Macedonia; Peace Corps (U.S.)--2000-2010; Peace Corps (U.S.)--2010-2020; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kosovo; Peace Corps (U.S.)--North Macedonia; Physicians

GPS: North Macedonia
Map Coordinates: 41.6, 21.7
GPS: Kosovo
Map Coordinates: 42.583333, 21
00:02:15 - Description of the local medical situation

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Partial Transcript: Tell me a little bit about medical care and, and, um, what happens in, in both Kosovo and, and Macedonia.

Segment Synopsis: The addition of Volunteers in Kosovo complicated the work of the Peace Corps medical staff in North Macedonia because of the larger number of Volunteers, the larger geographical location of the Volunteers, and the possible need for the Volunteers and medical staff to cross international borders to get or give care. In North Macedonia, there are 2 Western accredited hospitals and there has been expansion of the private health care system. This has made for better access to quality medical care for the Volunteers.

Keywords: Challenging; Healthcare facilities; Hospitals; Remote work; Site visits; Traveling

Subjects: International travel; Kosovo; North Macedonia; Peace Corps (U.S.)--2000-2010; Peace Corps (U.S.)--2010-2020; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kosovo; Peace Corps (U.S.)--North Macedonia; Physicians

GPS: Kosovo
Map Coordinates: 42.583333, 21
GPS: North Macedonia
Map Coordinates: 41.6, 21.7
00:04:34 - First news of COVID-19

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Partial Transcript: When did you start becoming aware of COVID-19 or, or this virus that nobody knew exactly what it--[inaudible]--gonna be?

Segment Synopsis: Kirovska was in close cooperation with Peace Corps headquarters and became aware of COVID fairly fast. After the start of 2020, Kirovska got regular updates about COVID from the Peace Corps Office of Health Services. As COVID spread in other parts of Europe, Peace Corps personnel in North Macedonia considered how their programs would be affected. Medically, little was known about COVID at that time. At the end of February, North Macedonia had its first known case of COVID. By mid-March, all the Volunteers had been evacuated globally. Locally, Volunteers had been given updates during this time. There was additional concern for Volunteers who were living with host families and naturally all the Volunteers normally are encouraged to have active community involvement. So, these contacts become possible COVID risks.

Keywords: Awareness; Community involvement; Cooperation; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Disease transmission; Host families; Risks

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Europe; Evacuation; North Macedonia; Peace Corps (U.S.)--2000-2010; Peace Corps (U.S.)--2010-2020; Peace Corps (U.S.)--North Macedonia; Physicians

GPS: North Macedonia
Map Coordinates: 41.6, 21.7
GPS: Europe
Map Coordinates: 43.806735, -12.9925444
00:07:20 - Kirovska's response to COVID-19

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Partial Transcript: How about for you personally?

Segment Synopsis: As a healthcare professional, Kirovska worries about her patients and her family. Kirovska was quickly trained on the use of personal protective equipment. Kirovska established an isolation room in the medical office for respiratory patients. Kirovska says it's difficult to give advice over the phone because little was known about COVID and she was unable to see the patient in-person.

Keywords: Advice; Arrangements; Awareness; Changes; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Disease transmission; Doctors; Family; Healthcare facilities; Illness; Isolation; Questions; Scared; Sickness; Telephone calls; Treatment

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Emotions; North Macedonia; Peace Corps (U.S.)--2000-2010; Peace Corps (U.S.)--2010-2020; Peace Corps (U.S.)--North Macedonia; Physicians

00:10:47 - Prelude to the evacuation

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Partial Transcript: Can you go through kind of what happened during that very intense time from the, from the end of February, when the first cases were reported in North Macedonia, to when the Volunteers were evacuated?

Segment Synopsis: Before the evacuation took place, there were many communications related to the COVID situation between the local Peace Corps medical staff and Peace Corps headquarters and with the country director and program directors. The Peace Corps staff in North Macedonia kept the staff at headquarters informed of the border closings in Europe. Kirovska agrees with the decision to evacuate the Volunteers. Announcements of the border closings and travel bans caused many migrant workers to return home to North Macedonia which further spread COVID. In North Macedonia, schools were closed on March 10 because of safety concerns. Several days before they were evacuated, Volunteers were told to come in to the capital in preparation for evacuation.

Keywords: Closing borders; Coming home; Communication; Cooperation; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Decisions; Disease transmission; Flexibility; Peace Corps directors; Peace Corps staff; Returning; Safety; Travel bans; Understanding

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Emigration and immigration; Europe; Immigrants; Italy; North Macedonia; Peace Corps (U.S.)--2000-2010; Peace Corps (U.S.)--2010-2020; Peace Corps (U.S.)--North Macedonia; Physicians

GPS: North Macedonia
Map Coordinates: 41.6, 21.7
GPS: Europe
Map Coordinates: 43.806735, -12.9925444
GPS: Italy
Map Coordinates: 43, 12
00:19:07 - Kirovska's evacuation responsibilities

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Partial Transcript: And as a medical person, as they came into the capital, what was your job?

Segment Synopsis: Besides overseeing the Volunteers' general health, Kirovska wanted to ensure that the Volunteers were practicing social distancing and to provide emotional support. About 100 Volunteers needed to be evacuated from North Macedonia and about 80 from Kosovo. The Peace Corps staff had additional work to contact the Volunteers' host families, to arrange for transportation, and to arrange for housing in the capital.

Keywords: Challenging; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Host families; Housing; Isolation; Leaving; Peace Corps staff; Skopje (North Macedonia); Social distancing; Telephone calls; Transportation

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Emotions; Kosovo; North Macedonia; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kosovo; Peace Corps (U.S.)--North Macedonia; Physicians

GPS: North Macedonia
Map Coordinates: 41.6, 21.7
GPS: Kosovo
Map Coordinates: 42.583333, 21
GPS: Skopje (North Macedonia)
Map Coordinates: 42, 21.433333
00:25:46 - Evacuation from Kosovo

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Partial Transcript: And how about Kosovo? How spread out were people? And how easy was it to get them to consolidate?

Segment Synopsis: The consolidation of Volunteers in Kosovo was similar to that of North Macedonia.

Keywords: Consolidation; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Kosovo; North Macedonia; Peace Corps (U.S.)--Kosovo; Peace Corps (U.S.)--North Macedonia; Physicians

GPS: Kosovo
Map Coordinates: 42.583333, 21
GPS: North Macedonia
Map Coordinates: 41.6, 21.7
00:26:47 - Evacuation from the capital

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Partial Transcript: Now, so you get them all in a hotel. Tell me about the evacuation process itself.

Segment Synopsis: The local Peace Corps staff needed to find flights for the Volunteers to return to the U.S. The Peace Corps headquarters staff was responsible for the Volunteers' final destinations. The local medical staff encouraged the Volunteers to practice social distancing, to use disinfectant, and tried to keep up the spirits of the Volunteers.

Keywords: Attitudes; Behavior; Coming home; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Education; Peace Corps staff; Returning; Social distancing; Traveling

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Emotions; Evacuation; Hygiene; International travel; Mental health; North Macedonia; Peace Corps (U.S.)--North Macedonia; Physicians; Social norms

00:29:27 - Post-evacuation involvement

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Partial Transcript: And, and for you, now you get everybody on the plane, what happened next for you guys?

Segment Synopsis: Shortly after the departure of the Volunteers, there was a lockdown in North Macedonia. People started working remotely. For several months, the local Peace Corps staff was still involved with the medical care of the Returned Volunteers in conjunction with the headquarters staff.

Keywords: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Home; Lockdowns; Quarantines; Remote work; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); North Macedonia; Peace Corps (U.S.)--North Macedonia; Physicians

GPS: North Macedonia
Map Coordinates: 41.6, 21.7
00:31:19 - Current COVID-19 situation in North Macedonia

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Partial Transcript: How's, how's North Macedonia doing? How--what's--how's it doing with the pandemic?

Segment Synopsis: Initially, COVID was not widespread in North Macedonia. But over time, the local people became less afraid and wanted life to return to normal. Especially with various holidays in late spring, socializing led to a second wave of COVID infections. During the summer, North Macedonia experienced a high number of COVID patients. The number has begun to decline but there is still uncertainty about when and how schools will re-open.

Keywords: Adjustment; Attitudes; Behavior; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Fears; Holidays; Schools; Socializing; Uncertainty

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Lifestyles; Manners and customs; North Macedonia; Physicians

GPS: North Macedonia
Map Coordinates: 41.6, 21.7
00:34:30 - Kirovska's reflections on the evacuation

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Partial Transcript: It is probably the most challenging experience in my work with Peace Corps. But at the same time, um, I'm very, very proud of how well we did on every level and very happy that the Volunteers returned home safely.

Segment Synopsis: The global evacuation of the Volunteers was intense and challenging to Kirovska. Kirovska is proud of how the staff cooperated to get the Volunteers home safely. A number of Volunteers have emailed their thanks to Kirovska. The local Peace Corps staff continues to liaise with the schools and other organizations where Volunteers served. Kirovska hopes that the Volunteers can safely return to North Macedonia soon.

Keywords: Anxious; Challenging; Commitments; Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); Emails; Home; Leaving; Peace Corps staff; Perspectives; Returned Peace Corps Volunteers; Returning; Safety; Scared

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease); Emotions; Evacuation; North Macedonia; Peace Corps (U.S.)--North Macedonia; Physicians; Schools

GPS: North Macedonia
Map Coordinates: 41.6, 21.7