Conflicts & War

Bunkers under Ukraine children’s hospital not an option for every patient

By Isaac J. Martin

Odessa, Ukraine, Mar 18 (EFE).- An air-raid siren blares in Odessa, prompting medical staff in this southern Ukrainian city’s largest children’s hospital to prepare to move newborns and older children alike to underground bunkers.

But amid the flurry of activity, some patients at the Odessa Regional Children’s Clinical Hospital – those receiving treatment in an intensive-care unit or a neonatal ward on one of its floors – simply cannot be moved despite the risk of a Russian airstrike.

Some babies there weigh less than a kilogram (2.2 pounds), are being intubated or are awaiting an operation, and because of their delicate state moving them to a subterranean shelter is out of the question.

Elsewhere in the hospital, some mothers who are able to seek refuge with their children find a space in one of the different bunkers and wait anxiously for the siren to stop sounding.

The hospital’s director, Tatiana Pokatilova, told Efe that alarm sound may be heard several times in a single day, particularly in the early morning hours, adding that staff in every building have been assigned to assist with the evacuation plan.

But “we can’t protect them” in the intensive-care and neonatal units, she said. “We just put cellophane on the glass … and cover the windows with curtains and even with mattresses.”

The mother of one of the newborns waits desperately for some news, seemingly unconcerned about the siren.

Natalia Sivolav, head of the hospital’s neonatal and pediatric ICU, told Efe that the baby was born with a severe heart defect and may not make it through the night.

In another room, 23-year-old Darya holds her young son Svyatoslav in her arms a day after he was released from the pediatric ICU.

A resident of a small town near Mykolaiv, a regional capital and strategic gateway to Odessa that has come under attack by Russian forces, Darya and her newborn son were taken by car to Odessa after the bridge linking her town to Mykolaiv had been bombarded.

“It wasn’t a comfortable trip at all,” she said, adding that she feels more at ease in Odessa even though it is also a city under attack.

Pokatilova said the hospital has not yet been directly affected by the conflict and that no children wounded since Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24 have been admitted.

Among its emergency plans, the hospital decided in the days after the war started to relocate all pediatric cancer patients to Moldova.

But although more than 3 million Ukrainians have fled the country, according to United Nations figures, the almost entirely female staff at that Odessa children’s hospital has stayed.

“We have no alternative. They need specific treatment, and if there are no doctors or nurses who can provide it, then who’s going to take of them?” Sivolav said. EFE


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