Healthcare Under Fire: Russian Troops Destroy Medical Facilities in the Mykolaiv Region
Surgeries under fire, doctors’ calls in bulletproof vests, births via messenger apps, and the destruction and shelling of medical facilities – such were the challenges faced by Ukrainian medical personnel at the beginning of the large-scale Russian invasion. Mykolaiv Region is no exception: as of late June, shelling and airstrikes had already hit three dozen medical facilities here.
Attacks on healthcare facilities and medical workers continue to demonstrate the Russian tactic of “war of extermination” and undoubtedly constitute Russian war crimes. We have gathered all possible information about the shelling of medical infrastructure to document these crimes.
Chronology of Destruction
Just a year ago, the Bashtanka Multiprofile Hospital was in the midst of the bustling Big Construction government program, with officials of various levels inspecting the renovation work and handing over new equipment. The institution was a district hospital that served several local communities. But on April 19, the Russian army “denationalized” the unarmed medics by launching a missile attack on the facility, which destroyed several wards, smashed windows, and collapsed walls.
This is one of the largest examples of the destruction of the region’s medical infrastructure.
“Airstrikes hit the regional psychiatric hospital and the Center for Emergency Medical Care, located in the same premises. The missile attack was on the Bashtanka district hospital, where about 30-40% of the premises were destroyed, including the hemodialysis department. Other hospitals received damage from multiple rocket launchers (Smerch, Uragan, Grad). These include the destruction of windows and doors. In total, since the beginning of hostilities, 1,800 windows and 70 doors have been destroyed in medical institutions,” Maksym Beznosenko, head of the health department of the Mykolaiv Regional Hospital, told Bihus.Info.
According to Beznosenko, there were no casualties among the medical personnel and patients, as during the air raid, people hid in the basements. However, as a result of the missile attack on the Bashtan hospital, the institution’s security personnel were injured.
The Ukrainian Healthcare Center, which collects this data, provided us with more information about such attacks.
On March 7, windows in the Mykolaiv City Hospital №3 were blown out as a result of shelling.
On March 11, the hospital for cancer patients, the Emergency Medical Care Station, and the Mykolaiv Regional Ophthalmological Hospital were shelled.
On April 3, five facilities of the regional health department were attacked simultaneously. In particular, it was Mykolaiv City Hospital №5, the Children’s House, the regional hospital, and the laboratory center.
As a result of the April 4 shelling, when the Russian military fired cluster munitions from multiple rocket launchers, the Mykolaiv Regional Clinical Hospital was damaged. 150 windows and one door were damaged, as well as the power cable that supplies the medical equipment. Also the roofing, heating system and hot water supply system were damaged in five places. Multiple shrapnel damage to the exterior and interior walls of the buildings was documented as well.
On the same day, the Mykolaiv Regional Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the Ministry of Health and the Regional Children’s Clinical Hospital were hit by cluster munitions. The damage to the former included 34 windows, 2 doors, a corner of the roof of the administrative building, 6 units of special vehicles, and 1 floating craft (boat). In the latter case, about 120 windows and a portable generator were damaged.
During one of the latest rocket attacks on Mykolaiv on June 22, when Russian forces fired between seven and nine missiles into the city, shrapnel from one of the missiles reached the territory of the oncological dispensary, breaking windows and doors, but not resulting in any injuries.
According to Maksym Beznosenko, no medical facilities have shut down as a result of shelling. However, first, the pandemic and now the war have affected the quality of treatment, including that of cancer patients. According to the official, there is a surge of neglected cancer cases, when people go to doctors in the last stages of the disease.
As for the emergency services, medical workers wear flak jackets when called to the so-called no man’s land where there is a threat of explosions or flying shrapnel. The Ministry of Health and charitable organizations donated almost three hundred sets of protective equipment.
“They say no one goes there but them. If they are wounded or sick there, they try to do their duty in wartime. Everyone goes, despite the risks,” Beznosenko says.
Healthcare Under Occupation: Lack of Drugs, Birth Via Messenger Apps
Most of the Mykolaiv Region has been liberated by the Ukrainian military, but about 15% of the territory remains under enemy occupation. This includes the town of Snihurivka, which the invaders seized on March 19. According to the head of the Mykolaiv Regional Health Department, a hospital continues to operate there.
“The nursing facility in Snihurivka still accepts patients. Part of the medical staff remains, they are being paid. But the situation with drugs is complicated. Not a single convoy has been allowed into Snihurivka since May 8. Volunteers tried to get through several times, but the cars were shot up in the no man’s land. There is a problem with the delivery of insulin. According to the laws of war, the invader has to supply the captured medical institution”, said Maxim Beznosenko.
Another reality of life under occupation is the use of telemedicine, which was introduced in Ukraine several years ago. For example, at the beginning of March, Russian troops seized the village of Kandybyne and did not let locals evacuate, not even letting a woman in labor through.
“At that time Mykolaiv was almost under siege. We gave recommendations to all women in labor, who were preparing to give birth, to come to medical institutions. But not everyone had that opportunity. When the situation with this woman arose, we found a nurse who worked in the maternity hospital, meaning she was not a professional and established a connection with the city obstetrician-gynecologist. She delivered the baby via a messenger app, following instructions. The labor went on for eight hours. They are fine. This settlement has already been liberated,” said Maksym Beznosenko.
On Medical Worker’s Day, the nurse Tetiana Pavlova was awarded the Medal for Lifesaving by the President of Ukraine.
Healthcare as an Instrument of War
According to the Ministry of Health, as of early June, 105 medical facilities in Ukraine had been razed to the ground (but this does not include the situation in Mariupol). According to the Ukrainian Healthcare Center (UHC), as of June 22, 174 medical facilities were damaged, 43 medical workers were injured, 33 were attacked, and 18 were killed. All of this makes it more difficult or outright impossible for medical workers to continue to perform their duties and care for the wounded and the sick, and therefore can be considered a war crime. UHC specialists provide the collected information to lawyers for use in international courts and try to share the information about attacks on Ukrainian medicine with the international community.
“Together with our partners and international organizations, we are working to ensure that crimes against the healthcare system become separate precedents and be recorded as crimes for which responsibility must be taken. Because, unfortunately, the number of cases of using healthcare as an instrument of war is increasing in the world,” says Pavlo Kovtoniuk, co-founder of UHC.
On May 26, the WHO supported a resolution on the emergency situation in Ukrainian healthcare, in which it condemns Russia’s actions and demands an end to attacks on healthcare. At the same time, UHC experts note that this document is not enough, despite its political importance. Ukraine requires more decisive support.
Volunteers' car slowly circles around Snihurivka. On the hills along the road, you can see the silhouettes of people with their hands in the air, that’s how the locals try to at least briefly catch some cell phone signal. Some of the brave ones climb even higher, up into the trees and on poles. This is one of the most recent videos of volunteer trips here. They were bringing humanitarian aid while it was possible, but now the invaders "rule" here, as well as about 15% of the territory of the Mykolaiv Region.
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