KIEV ( Associated Press) – A nurse wounded by a Russian sniper was smuggled out wrapped in sheets. Another, unable to bear the thought of working for people who destroyed his home, escaped through a side door and walked through the devastated streets of Mariupol.
The doctors took off their gowns and put on their normal clothes. And so, one by one, staff at the largest hospital in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region fled as Russian forces took control of the city centre.
Months later, some 30 employees of Mariupol Hospital No. 2 are reunited in Kiev. Together with 30 specialists from a cardiac hospital in Kramatorsk, the city of Donetsk, which is still under Ukrainian control, they are opening a scaled-down version of a public hospital to help displaced Ukrainians in need of medical attention.
Dmitro Gavro, a nurse studying to be a cardiologist, remembers every child who came to the hospital in Mariupol during the dark days of March, when the city was besieged and bombed by the Russians on February 24. Had gone.
Gavro said, “I remember them all, from the first girl brought to us to the last two boys who arrived shortly before the hospital was taken over.”
He said he fled Mariupol because he could not bear the idea of working for the Russians, who had focused the port city on what they considered a strategic objective after 86 days of attacks.
“I could not follow those who destroyed my life,” he said. “I don’t have any photos, nor any memories of my childhood. I don’t have photos of my family, I don’t have photos of my parents growing up. Everything in my house was burnt to ashes.
Gavro, 21, sees the new hospital in the Ukrainian capital as a kind of revival, with only people who understood what he was going through.
“It is our hospital that shows that everything is possible. Anything is possible, you can start from zero and create something new,” Gavro said a day before receiving a handful of patients at the hospital.
Much of Ukraine’s medical infrastructure would have to be rebuilt from scratch. The World Health Organization has documented 715 attacks on health facilities in Ukraine during the war.
The Center for Medical Care of Ukraine released a study last week saying that nearly 80% of medical facilities in Mariupol were damaged or destroyed, ie 82 out of 106 facilities the center analyzed with a combination of satellite images and eyewitness accounts .
“Almost all of the city’s critical medical infrastructure is part of the destroyed medical facilities,” the study said.
Maryna Gorbach’s last memory of Hospital No. 2 was not as a nurse, but as a patient. On 11 March a bullet fired by a Russian sniper struck him in the jaw as tanks and troops from Moscow surrounded the building.
Until then, the hospital cared almost exclusively for war victims, but its halls were filled with Mariupol residents and had nowhere to go.
Gorbach’s two teenage daughters found themselves in the basement of their house on the other side of town, not knowing what had happened to their mother. Two journalists from the Associated Press, who were at the hospital that day, witnessed the shooting, as well as the approach of Russian forces that same night.
By the time Russian troops took control of the hospital on 13 March, Gorbach was barely holding himself in the intensive care unit.
“They counted the patients, they counted the staff, so no one would leave. They said they would shoot any doctor who tried to leave,” recalled Gorbach, a nurse in the neurology department. Three days later, and in the most discreet manner, his aides wrapped him in sheets, put him in a vehicle and drove him away from the scene.
Gorbach did not want to go back to work in the health services.
But when he finally arrived in Kiev, he was met by the same allies with whom he had worked for so long and who later saved his life. Only then did he realize that something had gone wrong.
“The will to live has reappeared,” he declared. “We were doing all this together. Therefore, here we understand each other without saying anything, just with a glance. Mariupol residents understand each other like this now, with words, gestures and with tears.
Hinnant contributed from Paris.