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26 March, 02:03 PM

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Ukraine’s largest children's hospital works around the clock to treat the wounded

Over the month of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, the Okhmatdyt Children's Hospital in Kyiv has turned into a full-fledged military infirmary, where children and even adults injured by Russian shelling are constantly being treated.

For the first time in three weeks at Kyiv's Okhmatdyt Children's Hospital, 7-year-old Varvara came down from her ward to the Superhero Library, which is located in the same medical facility. There she chose to read "The Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis — fantasy novels set in a magical world.

The girl says that her favorite superhero is not actually from a literary work, but a comic book hero — Spiderman. "And why not Harry Potter?" our photographer asked Varvara. "Because Harry Potter is a magician, not a superhero!" the Irpin schoolgirl responds in all seriousness.

Varvara, who dreams of becoming a baker or a policewoman, can explain in detail how a magician differs from a superhero. The girl can also extensively document the injuries she and her mother sustained when they tried to leave Irpin, a Kyiv suburb, in early March.

7-year-old Varvara, who received shrapnel wounds / Фото: Oleksandr Medvedev

Now Varvara is already walking and even "almost running". The girl and her mother came to Okhmatdyt with shrapnel wounds received during a mortar attack while trying to leave their hometown.

"At first I couldn't walk because I had surgery under anesthesia, bandages were applied, my muscles and my wounds hadn't healed yet," says Varvara. The child points out that the shrapnel hit both of her legs, as well as one of her heels, while her mother's arm and legs were wounded.

According to the Prosecutor General's Office, 135 young Ukrainians have died since the beginning of the war. Another 184 children, including Varvara, were injured.

 "I want Putin to stop this," said the seven-year-old war victim gravely.

Varvara after the surgery / Фото: Okhmatdyt's press service

“Or do something with Putin to stop it, apply torture to stop him. Because of him, so many people have already suffered: children and mothers."

 Children’s hospital turned military infirmary

Okhmatdyt National Children's Specialized Hospital is the largest medical institution of its kind in Ukraine. It treats various types of diseases and performs very complex surgical operations.

Ihor Mirochnyk, Head of Surgery / Фото: Oleksandr Medvedev

The life of the hospital, as well as the whole country, changed on Feb. 24.

Ihor Mirochnyk, the chief surgeon at Okhmatdyt, says that the hospital started receiving injured children from the very first days of the Russian attack. On Feb. 25, an ambulance delivered a seven-year-old boy in a critical condition. The child was unconscious and had lost a lot of blood due to a shrapnel wound to the neck, a head wound, and a contusion.

"It turned out later that his whole family had died," the doctor said.

Semyon became the first wounded child who could not be saved / Фото: Okhmatdyt press service

 "Unfortunately, the boy died at the hospital on the fifth day."

Anastasia Maherramova, who works for Okhmatdyt's press service, says that when the little wounded boy was taken to hospital, doctors did not even know who he was or where he came from. At the child's bedside the staff wrote "Unknown № 1". Only later did doctors learn his name – Semyon.

The Okhmatdyt staff all decided to live at the facility right when the war began, in order to provide round-the-clock treatment to the war wounded - not just children, but also adults.

"We organized three operating rooms down here, because it's plain scary to operate upstairs," says Mirochnyk, standing in the waiting room. At that moment, an ambulance brought in a wounded woman.

"Operating rooms work around the clock and junior staff work 24/7," explains the head of the department.

We proceed to the press service room with Maherramova, who has also been living in the hospital since Feb. 24. She calls this room a “hostel," as this is where some hospital staff sleep.

Standing in the middle of this "hostel," Maherramova explains that from the first days of the war, she began to document the Russians' crimes against civilians – she and her colleagues, with the consent of patients, recorded and published interviews about what happened to them.

Anastasia Maherramova, Okhmatdyt's press officer / Фото: Oleksandr Medvedev

 Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of war crimes.

For instance, on Feb. 26, several wounded children were brought to Okhmatdyt. A six-year-old boy had already died. But another two – a 13-year-old boy and a 14-year-old girl – were received with shrapnel and bullet wounds.

 Okhmatdyt surgeons of the hospital perform an operation on a child's foot / Photo: Okhmatdyt's press service

"It was so horrendous,” Maherramova recalls, adding that the teenager is still being treated.

“The boy literally had a hole in his face. We didn't sleep all night.”

Professor Vasyl Prytula, a pediatric surgeon, says Okhmatdyt has effectively turned into a miltary treatment facility in a month. He himself now deals mainly with injuries received by children and adults in the war.

The professor recalls how an American journalist was brought to the hospital from the Kyiv Oblast with a combination of injuries. Fortunately, the wounded man's health was stabilized and he is now being treated in the United States.

Prytula admits that it is difficult to deal with the wounded – such injuries take a long time and are difficult to treat. The war adds to the already difficult situation of dealing with combat-inflicted trauma, adversely affecting the psychological state of medical personnel. It's hard to work, says the surgeon, "with constant shelling and explosions outside."

Okhmatdyt surgeons of the hospital perform an operation on a child's foot / Фото: Okhmatdyt's press service

For example, on the morning of March 16, everyone at Okhmatdyt was startled by three powerful explosions nearby – the blast damaged the windows of one of the buildings, and the wreckage of a rocket was found on the balcony of the neonatal surgery department.

Doctors understand that the status of a hospital is irrelevant in this war. After all, there are already multiple cases when the enemy targeted medical institutions. In Mariupol, the Russians resorted to bombing a maternity hospital.

"Our greatest need now is for a peaceful sky,” says Ihor Mirochnyk, standing in the reception area on the ground floor.

Vasyl Prytula, pediatric surgeon / Фото: Oleksandr Medvedev

“We have everything else.”

There is also a bomb shelter in the hospital. Sometimes babies who are on oxygen have to be moved there, along with all their necessary equipment.

Life and death

Adults and children – residents of the capital and Kyiv Oblast – come to Okhmatdyt in a difficult psychological state, says Maherramova. And although doctors are focused primarily on work, it is not easy for them to cope with what they see.

Once, a man was brought to the hospital, whose limb had been torn off. The anesthesiologist, before putting him to sleep before the operation, began to ask mandatory questions in such cases.

Adults are now also treated at Okhmatdyt / Фото: Oleksandr Medvedev

"And then the man started crying and shouting that his wife and two children had been killed in front of him," says Maherramova.

"And the anesthesiologist then said, 'I didn't know what to do: say something to him, or keep quiet.”

There was another case of a six-year-old girl, Milana. In late February, she, a resident of Kyiv Oblast, received shrapnel wounds after a shell hit her family's house. The girl's right foot was especially affected. But the worst thing was that Milana's mother died. And the girl, while in the hospital with her father, drew a heart in a notebook, annotating it with one word – "mom".

Psychologists have attempted to treat the victims of the Russia’s attack, including Milana. But in practice, nearly every employee at the hospital has recently become a psychologist.

6-year-old Milana lost her mother / Фото: Okhmatdyt's press service

A four-year-old boy was recently admitted to Okhmatdyt after returning home with his father in the afternoon when an enemy shell hit their yard in Kyiv. Both received shrapnel wounds. The boy received a severe lumbar wound, underwent surgery, and now the child is awaiting a very lengthy treatment in Okhmatdyt.

Sick war

In addition to receiving the wounded, Okhmatdyt continues to provide assistance to children with other illnesses. For example, they operated on a small child who suffered a stroke.

But the war affected the operation of the entire hospital, explains Larysa Mostovenko, head of the infectious disease diagnostics department. Currently, many young patients with complex diseases are arriving in Okhmatdyt already in critical condition, as it is difficult for patients from other parts of the country to get to the Kyiv hospital.

An enemy projectile seriously injured a 4-year-old boy / Фото: Okhmatdyt's press service

"Children do not arrive on time or arrive in critical conditions," says Mostovenko.

"I have just transferred one child to the intensive care unit. I don't know how things will turn out."

From time to time, Volodymyr Zhovnir, the director of Okhmatdyt, records appeals to parents and urges everyone to identify the children, as is done in kindergartens. Identification can be a bracelet or a patch on their clothes with the child's name and contact details of the parents.

"God forbid, some place got bombed, a child got lost, and then was brought to the hospital," the doctor explains.

"Everyone needs to keep this in mind now."

Concluding her conversation with NV, Anastasia Maherramova lays out numerous sharp fragments of shells and rockets that she’s found on the territory of Okhmatdyt, on the table of her temporary “hostel".

"It's not normal when rockets and explosions fly all over the place, including over a children's hospital,” she says.

"It's not normal for children to suffer and die in war."

Okhmatdyt / Фото: Oleksandr Medvedev

She promises to continue to tell the world about the crimes committed by Russia against Ukrainian children. 

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