In an expedition to Antarctica that started in Bulgaria last November, noted Macedonian alpinist and neurosurgeon Jovica Ugrinovski placed his country's flag at the South Pole, alongside those of 40 other nations.
By Slobodanka Jovanovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 11/02/03
It took about 15,700 km by plane and another 1,000 km by ship for Macedonian neurosurgeon Jovica Ugrinovski to arrive in the Antarctic. He was the first Macedonian to travel from the small Balkan country to that distant and sparsely populated part of the world. As part of a 13-member international expedition composed mostly of Bulgarian and Spanish experts from various fields, he traveled by plane from Sofia to Milan and from Milan to Buenos Aires, and later by ship from Ushuaia to Livingston Island at the South Pole.
Dr Ugrinovski's primary mission was to provide healthcare to members in the expedition, to examine the effects of severe living conditions on the heart and blood circulation, and, as a personal goal, to examine human behaviour after long periods of isolation in extreme conditions. Those conditions, he said, "were not as severe as in the Himalayas, where it's very high and the temperatures are very low, provoking health problems very easily. But the weather is totally unpredictable and it seems to change every 15 seconds, mostly because of the strong winds, sometimes as high 160 km per hour."
Part of Ugrinovski's popularity as a neurosurgeon in Macedonia stems from an incident several years ago, when he saved the life of former President Kiro Gligorov after an assassination attempt. However, he is also known as a passionate mountaineer who has participated in several expeditions:climbing the highest mountains in Europe, Africa and the Himalayas. However, this expedition to Antarctica was more for research than enjoyment. It also opened the door for other Macedonian scientists to take part in international missions at the South Pole as members of the Polar Research Centre that he recently created in the main University in Skopje -- "Kiril i Metodij".
Ugrinovski's two-and-a-half-month expedition began in November and ended in January. All members of the expedition stayed and worked at the research base at Livingston Island. There they conducted geological, bacteriological, biological, meteorological and other experiments that will be continued by others. "In the winter it is almost impossible to stay there, but it is summer this time of the year and the lowest temperature at night was only -12 C. But it's not exactly night because there is daylight all the time, " Ugrinovski explained.
He conveyed pride in being the first Macedonian selected by the European Board for Polar Research to take part in the expedition and the first Macedonian to spend an extended period of time in the Antarctic. He said his main impression from the trip was that "everything is white." Few people, radio contact only once a week, penguins and a few other birds, the ocean, snow and ice -- that's the Antarctic.