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Russia reportedly strikes Ukraine maternity hospital as health care attacks mount

A nurse waits as another staff places sand bags near the window for protection in Kramatorsk City Hospital in eastern Ukraine.
Enlarge / A nurse waits as another staff places sand bags near the window for protection in Kramatorsk City Hospital in eastern Ukraine.

The World Health Organization has verified 18 Russian attacks on health care resources in Ukraine, including attacks on health care facilities, health workers, and ambulances, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press briefing Wednesday. The verified attacks, which are all in violation of international humanitarian law, involved 10 deaths and 16 injuries.

The latest tally came as reports circulated online that Russian forces had carried out a “direct strike” on a maternity hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted video footage of the wreckage, writing, “People, children are under the wreckage. Atrocity!” The footage shows a person walking through a hallway, passing room after room in ruin. The brightly colored rooms have their windows blown out, furniture destroyed, and other rubble strewn about. The video captures glimpses of flipped beds, a crib, a pink changing table, a small child-sized cot, and a trail of blood on the debris littering the floor, though no injured people are seen.

NPR noted that the Mariupol City Council also shared the footage, along with other videos, on the city’s Telegram channel. One of the other videos showed a massive crater in the hospital’s courtyard.

“Bandages on mortal wounds”

During the WHO press briefing, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said the situation in Ukraine is “becoming an extremely complex health response.” There are about 1,000 health care facilities of different sizes on the frontlines or within 10 kilometers of front lines. “In effect, the health system is becoming engulfed in this conflict, engulfed in this crisis,” Dr. Ryan said. Some hospitals have been abandoned entirely because they can’t function, and there are efforts to move doctors, nurses, and medical equipment to different locations amid the crossfire.

With the constant violence, “it’s hard to do the kind of humanitarian operations that are needed to provide support,” Dr. Ryan said. Sending supplies to hospitals isn’t enough when hospitals need basic infrastructure, like power, clean water, and fuel for generators. It’s “almost an impossible situation,” he said. “This is putting bandages on mortal wounds right now.” What’s needed is a ceasefire, he said, or things will only get worse.

Dr. Tedros reported that more than 2 million people have fled Ukraine so far, and the agency is assisting neighboring countries caring for refugees, who are mostly women and children. Dr. Ryan noted that the mass movement creates the ideal conditions to amplify and spread infectious diseases. So far, the most common health problems seen among refugees are hypothermia and frostbite, respiratory diseases, lack of treatment for cardiovascular diseases and cancer, and mental health issues, Dr. Tedros said.

“I thank all my WHO colleagues, and all our partners in Ukraine and its neighbors and all over the world, who continue to work to protect and promote health, even in the most difficult situations,” Dr. Tedros said. “But the only real solution to this situation is peace.”

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