No healthcare during the Russian occupation in Donetsk and Kherson: mines in hospitals, destroyed ambulances and looting

“In 25 years of working in war zones, there may only be one or two cases where I have seen similar devastation,” says Christopher Stokes, program coordinator for Doctors without borders (MSF) in Ukraine. mosul, in Iraq; or Grozni, in Chechnya, already devastated by Vladimir Putin in the 1990s, are the cities that come to mind to make a comparison. “Along the thousand kilometers of front line in Ukraine, some areas have simply been wiped off the map“, he asserts.

Among the devastation there are not only residential buildings, military objectives or strategic infrastructure, but also hospitalshealth centers and a large amount of health infrastructure.

This has been verified by the large MSF team that is now working in the areas close to the front and, after the Russian withdrawal, in a good number of towns and cities that were under the total occupation of the Russian Army for months. Testimonials from patients, Ukrainian health workers and their own cooperators account for a “massive and widespread destruction of health structures” and of “serious impediments to medical care under Russian military occupation.”

Your complaint is based on more than 11,000 inquiries made in 161 cities and peoples of the regions of Donetsk and Kherson in which they have been able to work once the Ukrainian Army has recovered them. What happens on the other side of the front is impossible to know, since Russia has not allowed it to operate in areas under its control.”despite the requests” of the NGO.

“The medical structures and pharmacies that were not destroyed were looted, and the occupation forces did not guarantee the supply of medicines,” says MSF in its report, which lists the destruction of ambulancesthe continuous attacks on hospitals and the shortage almost total medicines for the civilian population that could not flee from the invasion.

Burnt-out vehicles at the Vysokopilla hospital in the Kherson region of Ukraine, which spent nine months under Russian control. —MSF

In the town of Drobysheve, a town in Donetsk, they did not find a single building that could stand to function as an emergency clinic. Now they provide medical care in shipping containers. The situation is the same in ten other villages in Kherson and Donetsk.

Mines in active hospitals

In addition, the NGO teams have even found anti-personnel mines inside hospitals that were still functioning and that were under Russian occupation in the oblasts of Kherson, Donetsk and in Izyum. And he has also witnessed bombings of hospitals in disputed areas that correspond to the use of cluster munitionprohibited in more than a hundred countries due to its low precision and the countless damages it generates among the civilian population even after the conflict, because a large part of its ammunition remains unexploded.

“Seeing mines in medical structures is horrifying, an incredible act of inhumanity”

“Seeing mines in medical structures is horrifying, an incredible act of inhumanity,” laments Vincenzo Porpiglia, MSF project coordinator in the Donetsk region. According to him, the message sent by the Russian troops is clear: “Hospitals are not a safe place.”. According to Porpiglia, “there are entire areas that no longer have access to these facilities.” And it mainly affects the elderly or people with reduced mobility, the vast majority with chronic diseases that require daily medication.

Kherson, epicenter of destruction

Among the most damaged areas is Jérson. The region was among the first to fall into Russian hands in late February 2022. It was partially retaken by Ukrainian forces in their November counteroffensive. Over there, “89 medical structures have suffered damage that prevents their operation” and have left more than 163,000 people without medical careaccording to regional authorities.

It has also been constant intimidation and violence against health workers who were still on duty during the months when Kherson was a de facto Russian region.

Broken glass on a hospital bed in Lyman, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine.
Broken glass on a hospital bed in Lyman, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. MSF

One of the stories highlighted by MSF is that of a doctor from the Mycolaiv region, on the border with Kherson, where there were fierce clashes and areas that changed from Russian to Ukrainian control in a matter of weeks. “Russian soldiers came to my house to arrest me. They took me to the administrative department, where they interrogated me for two hours. They told me that they wanted the hospital staff to cooperate with them. they beat me They ordered me to stop speaking Ukrainian.”he told the NGO.

After vandalizing his garage, stealing his house keys and beating him up, he was forced to leave the city under threat of death. “They put me in the car and followed me in the direction of the gray zone (no man’s land). The road was full of mines. I started driving, terrified that I would die in my car. I managed to cross the fields until I reached the Ukrainian armed forces I showed them the cuts and bruises caused by the handcuffs on my hands, and they helped me cross into controlled territory to reach my family,” he described.

Another doctor from the Kherson region described the total shortage of basic sanitary products during the occupation. “When the Russian troops entered our city, there were only a few doctors and medical personnel left in the hospital. We had no surgeons. Every day shrapnel wounded were brought to the hospital,” he recounts. The material did not last long. they had to reuse probeswear plastic bottles to collect urine of the seriously injured and the elderly who went for medication for diabetes or hypertension had to leave empty-handed.

“I had to go to the Russians and tell them we didn’t have anything to treat people with,” he says, but for many lists he handed out, he received hardly any basic material.

According to the NGO, Russia closed in September the only point through which essential medical supplies could be transferred to occupied territories. When they were able to reach the liberated areas, most of the patients treated confirmed that they had passed months without the possibility of going to the doctor or without taking their treatment. They speak of looted medical centers and journeys of more than 50 kilometers in the middle of the conflict to be able to treat serious ailments such as fractures.

MSF calls on the parties to fulfill their obligations to protect the population, civilian infrastructure and to allow the unimpeded supply of medical supplies and medicines, as well as safe access to independent humanitarian aid.

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