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Olya Mangusheva ‘11 (Master of Occupational Therapy): Living in Two Parallel Worlds – Ukraine and Indianapolis

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When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the lives of millions of people, including University of Indianapolis alumna and new faculty member, Olya Mangusheva ‘11 (Master of Occupational Therapy), were upended. 

“The war taking place in Ukraine and the scale of destruction are horrific. It’s impossible to describe it, it is terror and genocide. The air alarms sound daily, people have to seek shelter sometimes several times a day. Think about children having to interrupt their classes and go down to bomb shelters. Cities are shelled and attacked by drones causing massive power outages,” said Olya. “We were in complete shock and disbelief that war started again in the heart of Europe. When most of my family, colleagues and friends evacuated their children, we could not justify staying and risking our kids.”

Olya, her husband and their two small children fled to Poland. While they were now safe, they had to face an uncertain future and many impossible questions. 

“When we were in Poland, we realized that we actually left our lives behind,” recalled Olya. “And we started thinking, ‘So what do we do now? How do we provide for the family, how do we give our kids a normal childhood and how do we continue being professionals?’”

The answer that finally presented itself was to return to Olya’s second home: Indiana. 

In 2009, Olya applied to the University of Indianapolis Master of Occupational Therapy program as part of her dream of becoming an occupational therapist and establishing occupational therapy as a recognized profession in Ukraine. During her time at UIndy, Olya made lifelong connections with both her classmates and faculty members. 

“The more time that passes, the more nostalgic I get about my time here at UIndy,” said Olya. “I’ve truly made so many wonderful friends and these friendships have endured not just the time, but also the distance. I’ve been away for a decade in Ukraine since I graduated and I still have very close friends here who have been so helpful to our family as we transitioned here.”

This year, a teaching position opened in the School of Occupational Therapy, giving Olya and her family the opportunity to leave Poland and arrange their lives in the safety and familiarity of Indiana. 

“Teaching occupational therapy has always been my passion,” Olya said. “A teaching position at UIndy was like a godsend. I want to say how grateful I am to Dr. Stephanie Kelly, the Dean of the College of Health Sciences, and to Dr. Kate DeCleene Huber, Associate Dean, for believing that I could be an asset to the School of Occupational Therapy and for allowing me to have this opportunity.”

Olya is now wrapping up her first semester as an assistant professor within the masters and doctoral occupational therapy programs. Her specialties include occupational therapy in pediatrics, International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health, feeding therapy, and hippotherapy. 

“I look forward to helping my students become the best occupational therapists they can be,” said Olya. “Also, to sharing my experience and the international perspective on our profession and rehabilitation in general. Occupational therapy is actually very different around the world, so I hope that my students can be enriched from my knowledge and expertise through the global lens on rehabilitation.”

Following her graduation in 2011, Olya returned to Ukraine, where she advocated for occupational therapy to be recognized as an official profession. For several years, Olya traveled the country educating the medical and rehabilitation communities about occupational therapy – its practices, its benefits, its value. 

Finally, in 2016, occupational therapy was established as a profession in Ukraine. But Olya’s work had only begun. Along with a small but passionate group of like-minded colleagues, she continued to work with governmental bodies, educational institutions and medical institutions over the next few years to develop the country’s first masters program for OT, which was approved by the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Next would come several training programs for rehabilitation professionals, a national exam in occupational therapy, and more. 

“I think the biggest achievement is that occupational therapy is now a required healthcare service by the National Health Service of Ukraine,” Olya said. “It’s been a very challenging road. Our work is nowhere close to being done. There are many challenges we have to overcome as we’re actually building the whole system of rehabilitation in the country.”

Recently Olya traveled to Paris to attend the World Federation of Occupational Therapists Council and Congress as both a representative of Ukraine and the University of Indianapolis.

“I am a product of UIndy and all of the work that I’ve been able to do is the extension of the work of this faculty of the School of Occupational Therapy,” Olya said. “The support they have provided to me personally, to make all of my efforts in Ukraine a reality is incredible.”

While the war in Ukraine has cast uncertainty onto many aspects of Olya’s life, her passion and dedication to occupational therapy is unwavering. She continues to support her fellow occupational therapists in many ways.

“My focus is now on supporting Ukrainian occupational therapists,” said Olya. “I am teaching online courses, organizing webinars and conferences. I’ve reached out to organizations in Europe and they’ve helped us get the resources that we need for the OTs working there. The advocacy and legislative work that I’ve been involved in on the national level still carries on.”

Even as Olya and her family settle into life in Indiana, the war touches their lives on a daily basis.

“I feel torn daily because I continue to live in the war mentally,” Olya said. “Physically, I’m here but mentally, I’m still in Ukraine. My family, my friends and my clients are still in Ukraine. Everything that I’ve worked for for decades is in Ukraine, and my mission to develop the profession of occupational therapy is in Ukraine. So, now, being here feels like living in two parallel worlds.”

When Olya received the request for her story to be shared on YOUIndy, at first she was, understandably, hesitant. However, she agreed to share her story and asked that the UIndy community do one thing in return.

“I want our UIndy community to remember Ukraine, to think prayerfully about Ukraine daily, because the war is nowhere close to being done,” Olya asked. “There are many ways that the world community can help us and one of the easiest things to do is to not forget about us. We have to believe the good will prevail, we have to believe in victory, freedom and justice for Ukraine and peace in Europe, and worldwide.”

For Olya, for her family, for the Ukrainian people, remember Ukraine.