The Globe and Mail
It was daylight on an open road when a hail of fire from Russian forces smashed into the ambulance where paramedic Andriy Borodino was trying to keep a patient alive.
“There were no cars behind us. We were driving with flashing lights. The roadway was empty, as people could not move around that day,” Mr. Borodino said.
On the Beryslavske Highway, near the village of Naddnipryanske, they passed a group of Russian BTR armoured personnel vehicles. The Russian invasion had reached its third day, and troops were moving north from Crimea to seize territory in Ukraine. Mr. Borodino saw the BTRs out of the corner of his eye, but barely paid attention.
“I was dealing with the patient when I heard the shooting,” he said. “At first, they were shooting at the front. Then the shots moved further along the whole ambulance.” He can recall at least five shots. The ambulance slowed to a stop on the side of the road, the driver dead. The attack shattered Mr. Borodino’s pelvis, leaving him immobile as the vehicle began to catch fire. He watched from inside the ambulance as the BTRs passed by. It was another driver who pulled him to safety. The patient also died.
“I can’t even imagine why they did that,” said Mr. Borodino, who can no longer see out of his right eye. “We give medical help to everyone – it doesn’t matter if a person is Russian or not.”
Across Ukraine, medical personnel say ambulances have become targets in a Russian invasion that has fired artillery shells on kindergartens, bombs on apartment blocks and mortars into civilians. On Tuesday, Russian troops near Mykolaiv fired at a minivan emblazoned with red cross markings. Inside were staff travelling to work at a local orphanage. Three women died, Ganna Zamazeeva, head of the Mykolayiv Regional Council, wrote in an impassioned post on Telegram.
“Every day, on the instructions of their Fuhrer, Russian troops commit crimes against humanity on our land,” she wrote.
Ukraine’s medical system has experienced other serious strains in the war. Sixty-one of the country’s hospitals have been knocked out by attacks, Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said Tuesday. He blamed “terrorists from the aggressor country.”
Russia denies taking aim at civilians, in the face of ample documentary evidence to the contrary.
For health care workers, the problem has become serious enough that Ukraine’s most pressing medical shortfall today is not medicine or hospital beds. It is a lack of medical vehicles equipped to operate in a war zone, said Gennadiy Druzenko, who leads the Pirogov First Volunteer Mobile Hospital, an organization that dispatches medical care into conflict areas of Ukraine.
“What we really need, and what is a huge and urgent problem – we need armoured ambulances,” he said. “We have abundant people on the ground. But in a red zone where there is shooting, it is really dangerous for medical staff to risk their lives.”
At the city hospital in Bucha, a Kyiv satellite community where few buildings remain unscarred by the fighting, staff no longer dare to use the five ambulances, said Andrii Levkivskiy, director of the primary care centre in Irpin, a neighbouring city.
“They can’t go out because they are worried,” he said. “No one respects ambulances. They shoot everyone.”
The hospital in Bucha is now inaccessible, running on generators in an area without electricity, but doctors have continued to care for 100 patients. “They are staying because they can’t get out,” said Dr. Levkivskiy, who was forced to flee his own medical centre on Monday after it was hit by a rocket strike. Four vehicles – two ambulances and two marked medical vehicles – were destroyed, he said.
In Vorzel, another nearby town, nearly 20 pregnant women remain at a maternity centre that has been out of communication for five days, he said, adding that pleas to create a corridor to move patients to safety have so far accomplished nothing. On Tuesday morning, Dr. Levkivskiy had ambulances ready to form a rescue convoy, but that proved impossible.
The inability for emergency crews to move through the area has become an acute matter of life and death. People have begun calling Dr. Levkivskiy from bunkers beneath collapsed buildings in Irpin. They are alive, but cannot get out. He takes down their addresses and says help will arrive if possible.
“But how we will do this, I don’t know,” he said.
In Irpin, the war “has touched everything,” Dr. Levkivskiy said. On the streets, the dead lie “everywhere. Even the dogs have started to eat the bodies. It is truly terrible.”
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