Attacks on hospitals in Ukraine: The tragic toll on lives and infrastructure

27 Nov 2023

On Monday 20 November, two missiles hit a hospital in Selydove, Donetsk region of Ukraine, where five Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) staff were present. Although no MSF staff were harmed, eight people inside the hospital were injured – including two Ministry of Health staff. Tragically, three people have been reported killed when part of the hospital collapsed from the missiles. 

MSF condemns this attack on a hospital, the second in a week, and once again calls for the protection of medical facilities. 

Ukraine hospital in Kherson

On 13 November 2023, a hospital that MSF supports in the Kherson region of Ukraine was targeted with artillery. 150 windows of the hospital were broken and the emergency department where MSF worked was badly damaged. © MSF

“At around 11:30pm, we began hearing explosions. Initially, they seemed distant, but gradually they approached. Suddenly, a missile struck the room where myself and other MSF staff were present. Fortunately, the impact was on the corner of the room, which is likely what saved us,” said Artem Tretiakov, an ambulance driver with MSF.

After the attack, MSF’s team immediately began providing emergency first aid for those injured inside the hospital. An additional intensive care ambulance and emergency team were also dispatched to the hospital in Selydove to provide further support.  

“All the lights in the hospital premises went out. We proceeded to the corridor and enquired about anyone needing assistance. Using flashlights and mobile phones, we provided first aid, making makeshift bandages,” explained MSF doctor, Yevheniia Mitiaieva. 

These attacks continue to put the lives of healthcare staff at risk and jeopardise our ability to deliver critical medical treatment to patients in dire need. Medical facilities are supposed to be places where lives are saved, not taken.

“An 80-year-old patient was in critical condition. He had multiple wounds from window glass that shattered during the explosions,” continued Dr Mitiaieva. “After our initial treatment, we transferred him in one of our ambulances to another hospital for further medical care.”

The hospital in Selydove sustained severe damage from the attack. Two MSF ambulances based there were also damaged, which are part of an ambulance system that has transported more than 10,600 patients – 62 per cent of whom experienced violent trauma – since May 2022.

“The blast wave shattered the ambulance windows,” explained Tretiakov. “Despite this, the vehicles remain operational and once the glass is replaced, we will resume our work.”

This is the second attack within a week on a hospital in Ukraine where MSF is present. On Monday 13 November, a hospital in Kherson region was targeted with artillery. The attack destroyed 150 windows and badly damaged the emergency department where MSF worked. Three people were injured, and a Ministry of Health staff member died from injuries sustained during the attack.

Ukraine ambulance

The partially shattered glass window of an MSF ambulance, following two missiles hitting a hospital in Selydove, where MSF teams work. The missiles caused significant damage to the hospital and two MSF ambulances. Donetsk oblast, Ukraine, November 2023. © MSF

“We utterly condemn these abhorrent assaults on hospitals, which have resulted in the tragic deaths and injury of patients and medical personnel,” said Vincenzo Porpiglia, MSF head of mission in Ukraine. “These attacks continue to put the lives of healthcare staff at risk and jeopardise our ability to deliver critical medical treatment to patients in dire need. Medical facilities are supposed to be places where lives are saved, not taken.”

MSF has been working in the emergency room and intensive care unit of the hospital in Selydove since July 2023 and in the emergency room in the hospital in Kherson since October this year. Due to the insecurity and extensive damage to the buildings, we have been forced to temporarily suspend our presence inside these hospitals. However, we are committed to continuing to support with ambulance referrals. MSF teams continue to work in the emergency department and provide surgical care in other hospitals in Donetsk and Kherson regions, as well as conducting mobile clinics in areas close to the frontlines where there is limited access to healthcare services.

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