Médecins Sans Frontières has evacuated 150 patients from a hospital in Kherson, in the south of Ukraine, due to ongoing shelling. This was the second time MSF has had to evacuate patients from the same hospital in the past year as a result of attacks on the facility.
“In November 2022, MSF evacuated 267 patients from the hospital,” shared project coordinator for the MSF medical evacuation train, Dr Albina Zharkova. “Now, due to increased shelling in Kherson over the past few weeks, the department of healthcare in Kherson region requested our support again to urgently evacuate 150 high-needs civilian patients.”
The hospital was experiencing disruptions to power supplies as a result of the shelling, meaning that it was sometimes functioning without electricity. In addition, many of the patients were immobile due to their age and health conditions. This made them extremely vulnerable, as they were unable to be relocated to bunkers in time when attacks on the hospital occurred.
“The patients have various conditions – many have chronic diseases, others had severe disabilities, some are bedridden,” explained Dr Zharkova. “We have also seen an increase in the number of psychiatric conditions due to the stressors of living in an area under frequent fighting.”
MSF ambulances transferred patients from the hospital to the train station, where patients were then evacuated using MSF’s medical train. Two trips were conducted to relocate the large number patients to other health facilities in safer regions in central and west Ukraine, with the first taking place on Friday 20th October and the second on Sunday 22nd.
“During the morning of the evacuation, there was heavy shelling and we had to wait in the bunkers before we could proceed with transferring patients from the hospital to the train,” continued Dr Zharkova. “Fortunately, we managed to safely get all the patients to other health facilities where they can continue to receive the care they need.”
However, the relocation of patients to other facilities throughout Ukraine means that many patients will now be very far from family and loved ones. No one knows if or when they will be able to return to the place they call home.
“It is very distressing for patients,” shared Dr Zharkova. “But sadly, there has been no choice but to relocate them, as we see that hospitals in Ukraine – especially those located close to the frontlines, such as Kherson , Donetsk and Kharkiv regions – are being targeted with shelling quite frequently.”
Since 22 February 2022 when the full-scale escalation of the war began, the local regional administration has recorded the destruction of 26 healthcare facilities in the areas of Kherson region that have been retaken by Ukraine. A further 105 medical facilities have been damaged. In total, that equates to 80 per cent of all healthcare facilities – including hospitals, medical clinics, and paramedic and midwifery centres – being either completely or partially damaged in the region.
However, the total number of health facilities and care institutions destroyed in Kherson is likely to be even higher, as the lack of access to areas still occupied by Russian forces means that the full situation of healthcare facilities there remains unclear.
“Time and time again, MSF has denounced the attacks on hospitals in Ukraine and called for the protection of health facilities, healthcare workers and patients,” says Vincenzo Porpiglia, MSF head of mission in Ukraine. “Yet missile attacks and shelling of hospitals continue to occur, with total disregard of international humanitarian law.”
MSF strongly condemns the attacks on hospitals and other medical infrastructure in Ukraine and is once again calling for the protection of health facilities amidst this war.