Chronic diseases have gone untreated. Villagers have not been allowed to leave their homes to obtain much-needed medicines. With their closest medical center destroyed, some Ukrainians have been forced to take perilous journeys through risky terrain to obtain care. And some hospitals abandoned by Russian troops have had land mines planted inside them.
These are among the ways that medical services have been subjected to “massive and widespread destruction” in Ukraine, directly putting people at risk even away from the front lines of the battlefield, according to a report released on Thursday by the aid group Doctors Without Borders, also widely known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières.
The group, a nongovernmental organization that offers humanitarian medical care, said its teams have been able to work only in areas under Ukrainian control, despite requesting to work in Russian-controlled areas. Russia has seized a wide swath of land in southern and eastern Ukraine since it began its full-scale invasion in February last year.
In Ukrainian-held areas, the group has observed hospitals shut down after Russian aerial attacks and said that on three occasions its staff members found land mines inside functional hospitals that had previously been occupied by Russia.
The group said its teams “discovered the presence of antipersonnel land mines inside functioning hospitals” on Oct. 8, 11, and 15, in areas previously under Russian occupation in the Kherson and Donetsk regions and in the northeastern city of Izium.
“The use of land mines is widespread in frontline areas, but to see them placed in medical facilities is shocking: a remarkable act of inhumanity,” Vincenzo Porpiglia, a project coordinator for the group in the Donetsk region, said in a statement. “It sends a clear message to those who come in search of medicines or treatments: hospitals are not a safe place.”
Even in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, far from the front lines, Russia’s attacks on the country’s energy grid have disrupted operations in medical facilities, with surgeons at times working in the dark. Dozens of medical facilities have been targeted in attacks across the country, with doctors and ambulance workers among those killed.
The hospitals that remain open are often working with skeleton crews and are overwhelmed with patients, the report said.
In areas once controlled by Russia but retaken by Ukraine forces, the group found that access to health care during the occupation had depended on the unpredictable behavior of individual Russian troops, with some treating wounded civilians and others looting medical facilities. Food shortages had prevented people from maintaining healthy diets, leading to a variety of health problems, the group said.
Ukrainian doctors and nurses in Russian-held areas of the southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions had repeatedly requested essential medicines from the aid group, which it was partially able to provide from May until September through a single authorized frontline crossing point in the Zaporizhzhia region, it said. But that channel was shut down, and the group “had no option but to stop sending medical supplies,” it said.
“We urge all warring parties to uphold international humanitarian law and their obligations to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure and to ensure unhindered access to lifesaving medicines and medical supplies for people in need,” the group said in a statement.