The World Health Organization has verified at least “43 attacks on health care” — including assaults on patients, health-care workers, facilities or infrastructure — since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the agency’s director general, told reporters Wednesday.
An attack March 9 on a maternity hospital in the port city of Mariupol initially left three dead and 17 injured. A pregnant woman — shown being carried on a stretcher in a photo that became a symbol of the toll the Russian invasion is inflicting on civilians — and her baby died a few days later, the Associated Press reported.
A Washington Post analysis of attacks on health-care facilities showed that a Russian ballistic missile carrying a cluster munition hit the Central City Hospital in the town of Vuhledar, in the separatist region of Donetsk on Feb. 24. According to visual material obtained by Human Rights Watch, the missile hit outside the hospital. Four people were killed and 10 were injured, among them six health-care workers.
Serhii Chernyshuk, medical director of the Ohmatdyt Children’s Hospital in Kyiv, said he’s worried about a Russian airstrike hitting the hospital. Based on the events of the past three weeks, hospitals, schools and other civilian locations are maybe more dangerous than military locations, he said in an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday.
“As we see in Mariupol, Kharkiv, many hospitals are destroyed … by [the] Russian army. And our hospital also can be a goal for them,” he said.
Chernyshuk has been living in the hospital for the last three weeks, because he believes it’s safer to stay there the whole time. In the past three days, two rockets came down very close to the children’s hospital. One of the rockets landed less than one kilometer (a little over a half-mile) from it Wednesday morning, shattering a few windows. He thinks it is “very possible” that “one day, our hospital will be hit by a rocket or other weapons.”
“I’m not sure that it is possible to prepare for a rocket hit, you know? We are not a military [location], we have no air force in the clinic. [Our] only hope [is] that our air force that defends Kyiv will defend our hospital also,” he said. Echoing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s pleas to world leaders, Chernyshuk said, “Please close the sky.”
In addition to severely damaging health-care infrastructure, the war has made lifesaving medication hard to come by. Supplies of medicine such as cancer drugs, insulin or materials needed for dialysis are starting to dwindle. Delivering medications to cities under siege has been increasingly difficult, according to aid workers on the ground.
The shelling of cities, supply routes and key ports has made it nearly impossible for international aid to be delivered. “It’s just incredibly difficult to deliver any kind of response safely when the fighting is as horrendous and constant,” Save the Children spokesman Dan Stewart said.
The WHO has so far delivered 100 metric tons of medical supplies to Ukraine, Tedros said. But it has received only $8 million of the $57.5 million it asked for in donations, preventing it from delivering more supplies, he said.
The apparent widespread destruction of civilian sites such as hospitals and clinics has led to accusations that Russia has committed war crimes. Activists have begun collecting evidence to back such claims, which would require proving that Russia targeted the sites, without a military objective, or knowing that civilian casualty count would be disproportionate.
Experts are also worried that the invasion could spark a new surge not only in coronavirus cases but also of polio and tuberculosis. Refugees fleeing the conflict can end up in overcrowded living conditions, sometimes without receiving enough food or water.
Aggravating the situation is the potential for a rise in coronavirus cases in neighboring countries because of the unprecedented mobilization of Ukrainians fleeing their country. Ukraine had a sharp increase of coronavirus cases at the end of 2021, registering one of the world’s highest rates, and is flanked by countries with low vaccination rates, compared with other nations in Europe, which could result in a spike of coronavirus cases in countries receiving refugees.
Meg Kelly, Elyse Samuels, Karly Domb Sadof, Siobhán O’Grady, Claire Parker, Loveday Morris and Dan Diamond contributed to this report.