Paramedic describes life under Russian occupation in Kherson Oblast
Ukrainian equipment in the Kherson direction (Photo:Ihor Tkachev via 43 Separate Artillery Brigade named after Hetman Taras Tryasyl / Facebook)
Lidia Melnyk, a paramedic for the Doctors Without Borders international humanitarian medical organization, in an interview with Radio NV on Oct. 13 spoke about the humanitarian situation and what the residents of Kherson Oblast have experienced during the Russian occupation.
NV: We agreed from the very beginning that we won’t name the settlements of the liberated Kherson Oblast where Doctors Without Borders are working so as not to expose this organization and these settlements to any danger. What do you see when you come there, speaking of the newly liberated villages of Kherson Oblast?
Melnyk: Regarding the newly visited and, let’s say, areas that have already begun to be controlled by the Ukrainian military, and where hostilities have stopped for the time being, we see a lot of people who need humanitarian, medical, and psychological aid.
Also, on the way here we see a lot of destroyed and damaged houses, very mutilated and destroyed roads, lots of destroyed civilian cars. A lot of destroyed military equipment, which had not been completely removed the last time I was there. So a lot of work will have to be done there.
NV: And what do the people who were under occupation say? You’ve just mentioned that the Ukrainians who were there, who simply stayed with the Russian invaders, were forced to coexist with them, that they need psychological assistance, what do they say about the occupation?
Melnyk: They say the time they lived during occupation was very terrible. They are all scared. When we arrived, for example, in the Novovorontsovka territorial community, in some villages of the community people were so frightened that they just looked from behind the gate and were afraid to even come out. We stopped by the houses where we saw people, tried to offer them our help, maybe ask what they needed.
And when these people came out, they immediately began to cry from happiness that they were not forgotten, that someone wants to provide them with some help. They were happy to tell what they needed at the moment, they told with horror what they had experienced, that all this time they had lived without important human needs since the beginning of the invasion. Without electricity, without water. That is, all these vital needs for people’s existence were cut off from them.
NV: What do Ukrainians in the liberated territories of Kherson Oblast need most now?
Melnyk: First of all, this is humanitarian aid in relation to food and hygiene products. Secondly, there must be some kind of medical examinations, medicines. That is, these people, due to the conditions in which they have been for a very long time, need medical supervision. Also, as I said, they need psychological assistance. It must be primarily for elderly people and children who were there and heard and saw all this, all this horror.
NV: Do you perhaps have any individual stories about those who stayed there?
Melnyk: Yes, of course. The Doctors Without Borders team recently evacuated the Novovorontsovka territorial community. We evacuated a home for the elderly in one of the villages, there were both elderly and disabled people, (some) with very serious chronic diseases.
All of them needed medical supervision. We transported them to the Kryvyi Rih district of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. All of these people were scared, and I remember one man who had suffered a stroke.
He was not very communicative, i.e. he was afraid of everything, it was impossible to ask him anything, to get an answer from him, to take some indicators that we need regarding blood pressure, body temperature. Just indicators. And I noticed that he was constantly pulling his hat over his face and eyes.
And when I came into contact with him, tried to talk to him, his female companion who accompanied him told me that due to the fact that he had lived in dim light for a long time, i.e. the room wasn’t very well lit, and it’s not very often sunny outside, and due to the fact that there was no light, either artificial or natural, his eyes hurt under bright light.
That’s why even when the light came on in the ambulance or the sun’s rays penetrated the car, this man pulled a hat over his eyes because it hurt him a lot from natural and artificial light.
NV: What do you know about how the invaders behaved? What exactly did they do in those territories they had captured?
Melnyk: Yes, we managed to talk to one woman who went out to us when we approached her house to offer help. She said that during the hostilities, when there were still Russian troops in their area, they did not touch women and children. But in terms of food, in terms of household appliances, they came and took everything the people had.
It seems that the invaders themselves had nothing to eat, and the Russian troops who visited them took the last things from them, i.e. livestock, food, some supplies, they (the Russians) forced people to cook for them. That is, people had to starve themselves to give food to the Russian troops and save their own lives.
NV: We understand that people are very scared, they very often simply don’t know what will happen next. Of course, they are happy that their settlements have been liberated. What is Doctors Without Borders doing in the liberated areas?
Melnyk: First of all, we’re trying to constantly pay attention to the districts and villages that we visit, the needs they have. That is, if we see that there are destroyed hospitals or health centers in villages, we’re trying to restore them, reorganize departments in hospitals, We provide the necessary materials and medicines to make them work, and open our own health centers where the Doctors Without Borders teams accept and provide assistance to people who need it. That is, we provide both medicines and humanitarian aid, and help with the resumption of the work of hospitals.
NV: In what condition do you usually see the hospitals? Because from what we heard, from what we were told on the air, we were told that the Russians really steal everything from hospitals, and very often they are based in the buildings of these hospitals. What did you see?
Melnyk: This is true. Not only are they stealing, not only are they based there, because of the soldiers are based there, these hospitals are half destroyed. Therefore, what I saw, for example, in the Novovorontsovka territorial community, there is a hospital without windows or doors, cut off from electricity and water.
And that’s why work on its restoration will be carried out there now. That is, we’re trying to provide all the necessary means in terms of medicines and, for example, if necessary, solar panels, some generators for the medical facility to start functioning as soon as possible so that people can come and receive medical assistance.
Because, of course, there are a lot of elderly people, and they all need medical supervision, medical consultations, and medicines. Judging by the stories, people exchanged food for elementary medicines, such as blood pressure pills or cardiac medicine for the elderly.
NV: This is not exactly your specialty. But we also know many stories about collaborators who tried to convert Ukrainians into Russians, and there was also a lot of evidence that it was these very collaborators who stole that little humanitarian aid that supposedly came from Russia. Do you know anything about the activities of the collaborators in those territories of Kherson Oblast that were liberated?
Melnyk: As for a story I heard from one woman – she said there were villagers who agreed to cooperate with the Russian troops after the latter had entered the area. And since these people knew their neighbors very well, they took them (Russians), showed them, and told them about everything and everyone.
NV: We understand there are many villages in Kherson Oblast in such a state that it’s impossible to live there now. How easily or not easily do Ukrainians agree to evacuate from their homes?
Melnyk: I can say that people agree to evacuate from those houses that are completely destroyed. First of all, for example, the home for the elderly that we evacuated, they agreed to evacuate, but it was very difficult for them to leave the place because they had really good medical staff there, they were very well looked after even in such difficult conditions.
And they were most afraid of the unknown into which they were going. They always asked: will we be able to wash ourselves there? And will we be well fed there? Can we wash our clothes there? And where are we going? And when we explained to them where they were going and what the conditions would be for them there, they agreed to everything, because most of them had nowhere to return.
But the relatives with whom they could live, unfortunately, they are still in territory controlled by Russian troops.
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