As the war in Ukraine enters its third week, the magnitude of the devastation threatens the health of all Ukrainians, as well as the country’s healthcare infrastructure.
“It’s mind-boggling,” said James Elder, a UNICEF spokesman who arrived in Lviv, Ukraine’s western metropolis, just two days after the Russian invasion began.
Since then, a lot has happened “A million refugee children were forced to escape the country in just 13 days. Consider the anxiety and trauma. Since Globe War II, the world hasn’t seen anything like this “He made a point.
“But, as much as we see this massive outflow of people, it’s also incredibly important to remember those who are at risk trapped in-country,” Elder continued. “People who are unable to move. People who are on drips at hospitals.
Incubators are where babies are kept until they are ready to be born. People who have been imprisoned in bunkers. I recently visited a hospital in Lviv that had taken in 60 youngsters, some of whom had been injured in Kyiv and others who had become ill after spending days in a freezing basement.”
The direct threat to hospitals is exacerbating the problem.
Intentional wartime attacks against medical professionals, hospitals, and healthcare institutions, according to Doctors Without Borders, are a blatant breach of the Geneva Convention.
On Tuesday, Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko revealed that 61 hospitals around the nation had been virtually “taken out of service,” whether purposefully or not, since Russia commenced its invasion. Russian bombardments, according to Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, destroyed 34 of them.
This number increased on Wednesday when a Russian aircraft damaged a maternity hospital in Mariupol, which is under siege. The blast killed three individuals, including a child, and injured 17 others.
These attacks put Ukrainian public health authorities on the front lines of the fight, including Shorena Basilaia in Kyiv’s capital and Linnikov Svyatoslav in Odesa’s southern port city.
Hospitals are under attack.
Though Lviv has remained relatively unaffected by the massive bombing that has enveloped cities in the country’s eastern and southern regions, Kyiv (population 3 million) and its environs have not been so fortunate.
Despite the obvious hazards that come with providing sustained access to health care in the middle of a combat zone, Basilaia, Deputy Director of Kyiv’s City Hospital for Adults No. 27, tries to strike a can-do tone.
“It has not been damaged [by missiles] so far,” Basilaia said, adding that medical supplies are still on hand at the 270-bed facility she oversees, which has mostly been attending to COVID-19 patients of late.
“We have drugs, and there hasn’t been a scarcity so far,” she claimed, despite the fact that medical facilities in other parts of the country are in significantly worse shape. For the time being, she said, her team is “functioning and ready for all types of circumstances.”
Nonetheless, Basilaia recognized that the situation is “extremely stressful and challenging right now.”
“War has a detrimental impact on everything,” she said, including the healthcare system. Some of her employees, for example, have been unable to travel to work due to safety concerns.
Those who do go to work are kept on high alert, ready to scramble at the sound of an air raid siren—let alone the start of actual shelling—as they rush patients into the safety of a bunker underground.
“It’s absurd,” Svyatoslav acknowledged. He is the director of the health promotion department at Odessa’s Regional Center for Public Health (RCPH), which is the local equivalent of the CDC.
“I am not a warrior,” he stated emphatically. “I’ve never handled a firearm. However, I feel as if I’m in a movie. ‘The War of the Worlds,’ starring Tom Cruise. Because, as you may recall, the first alien attack in that film occurred in Ukraine.”
Slava, as he’s known, isn’t a Hollywood movie star, though. He’s an Odessa native who trained as a surgeon. His main responsibility at the RCPH during the war — and before the pandemic — was to advocate and teach public health initiatives targeted at lowering the risk of infectious diseases like HIV and viral hepatitis, as well as non-communicable diseases including heart and vascular disease, strokes, and cancer.
COVID is still a problem.
“However, with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, I began fighting a new enemy,” he added, rapidly turning his focus to infection prevention, vaccination facilitation, and dispelling pandemic myths.
According to the World Health Organization, the 44 million-strong country has reported 5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 112,000 deaths, a fatality rate equivalent to that of Italy.
Slava stated that he and his colleagues have spent much of the previous two years working on a countrywide campaign “aimed at sparing people’s lives from the coronavirus,” and that they have had a lot of success: Ukraine had managed to administer around 31.5 million immunizations up until this point.
Then the unimaginable occurred.
“On February 24, at 5 a.m., I was jolted awake by the most dreadful words: ‘Get up.’ The conflict has begun. Our cities are being bombed.'” Slava acknowledges that he and his buddies were taken aback by the “surreal” Russian invasion at first. “It became extremely difficult to grasp what to do next in the first hours after the conflict began,” he stated.
He stated, “It is impossible to prepare yourself for battle.” “It’s not something your brain wants to believe.”
The amazement dissipated soon, though, because Russia’s assault on Ukrainian sovereignty stretches back to the invasion of Crimea in 2014.
“The first volunteer groups appeared five hours after the fighting began. We start collecting help for the first victims, hunt for volunteer ammunition, and set up warehouses for humanitarian aid “Slava said.
The belief that public health activities cannot simply stop when bombs fall was also on everyone’s mind. Neither can ensure that chronically ill patients continue to have access to life-saving care. “Right now, war poses a hazard to physical health. Our primary goal today is to give continuous medical treatment to those who require it “Slava remarked.
“We’re talking about diabetic patients who require daily insulin,” he clarified. “People living with HIV, for example. It is hard for them to go a single day without drugs. As a result, doctors all around Ukraine are working hard to get them medicine.”
Medical supplies and training are critical.
“It’s all about supply,” Elder said, one of about 130 UNICEF personnel in Ukraine at the moment. “It is extremely necessary. We brought 60 tons of medical supplies into the nation this past weekend alone: surgery kits, resuscitation kits, and midwife kits, because women are now giving birth in bunkers and basements “He made a point.
“Of course, getting these goods to people who are being shelled and attacked—bringing food, water, and medical attention to entire families who have been imprisoned without water for days on end—is a significant concern,” Elder explained.
“Stopping the bombing is the surest and quickest route out of this mess. But if that isn’t possible, we’ll need humanitarian corridors to bring in life-saving aid and evacuate the vulnerable. It has to take place.”
In addition, according to Slava, the Ukrainian healthcare system must now take on the additional responsibility of “teaching the civilian population first-aid skills, survival in critical conditions, mental health maintenance, and stress adaptation,” as well as continuing the COVID vaccination program “where it is still possible and safe.”
For the time being, Odesa (300 miles south of Kyiv) has not been the target of a large-scale onslaught. However, with Russian ground forces only 80 miles to the east and Russian naval ships stationed just outside the vital city’s territorial seas, Slava believes that the constant sense of menace and fear is posing a health concern, jeopardizing the psychological well-being of an entire population.
“The uncertainty is terrifying,” he remarked, fearing that this is merely the calm before the storm.
“My hometown is Odessa. It’s quite lovely, and it’s a significant symbol in our country, much like L.A. is for America.
However, it is in a very perilous position right now, and we obviously want to fight “Slava stated. “We want to keep the city safe. We wish to assist people and offer them with the care they require. But we also want to flee since we know staying there will be extremely harmful for my buddies and me.”
Ukrainians are now locked in an emotional twilight zone, swinging back and forth between rage and exhaustion, as well as fear and lethargy.
Slava rushed to add, “There is no depression, no powerlessness.” “Right now is not the time for depression. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and other mental health issues will follow.”
Despite this, the conflict has altered the ground beneath his feet significantly.
“I don’t feel the days of the week anymore,” Slava explained. “Alternatively, the months’ dates. There are only a few hours left. Wartime hours: 24, 48, 168…”
And it’s still going.