Saturday, July 20, 2024

Ukraine: Children’s hospital hit as Russian airstrikes on cities kill at least 31

Kiev, Ukraine

A Russian missile attack partially destroyed a children’s hospital in Kyiv on Monday, sending terrified patients and their families fleeing for their lives and officials fearing more could be trapped under the rubble.

Moscow launched brazen daylight airstrikes on targets in cities across Ukraine during the morning rush hour, killing at least 36 people and injuring 137, according to Ukraine’s emergency service. Large-scale bombing hit areas in the capital, Dnipro, Krivi Rih, Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

In an update on Telegram, the emergency service included the number of dead and injured in the capital, now at 22. Two people were killed and at least 16 injured in the strike at Kyiv’s Okhmadyd hospital.

The facility is Ukraine’s largest children’s medical center and is critical to the care of some of the sickest children across the country. Each year, about 7,000 surgeries — including treatments for cancer and hematological diseases — are performed at the hospital, according to Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets.

Videos from the scene showed volunteers working with police and security services to sift through the rubble, as staff described how they tried to get children to safety after the attack. Ukraine’s Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said intensive care units, oncology departments and surgical units were damaged.

“The main task here is to get people out of the rubble and help those we can reach because we have already taken all the first steps,” he said in a Telegram post.

The attacks were part of a rare series of daylight bombings of Ukrainian cities, some of which are densely populated areas far from the front lines. It comes a day before US President Joe Biden is due to hold a crucial NATO summit in Washington, where new announcements are expected about the alliance’s military, political and financial support for Kiev.

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Russia’s Defense Ministry said Monday that Moscow had struck “military-industrial facilities of Ukraine and air bases of the Ukrainian Armed Forces” using long-range, high-precision weapons.

Natalya Sartudinova, a senior nurse, described the moment the strike hit the hospital, saying, “It was scary, but we survived.”

“It was loud, the windows were shattering,” he told CNN. “As soon as the alarm went off, the children were taken out onto the porch.”

He said two children were in the operating theater at the time of the blast and both were shifted to the basement shelter after their procedures.

“Everything was in smoke, there was no air to breathe. The doctor was cut to pieces. Windows and doors were blown out. A nurse was seriously injured in the hospital,” Zartudinova added. “My hands are still shaking. They don’t let anyone in now, they’re afraid it will collapse.

Yulia Vasilenko, the mother of an 11-year-old cancer patient at the hospital, said her son Denis was rushed out following the strike.

“My son is on painkillers. He has cancer. He has been without medicine for half a day. He was brought down the stairs from the third floor. There was smoke (and) heavy dust,” he said.

A 2-year-old child was undergoing surgery when the strike happened, Irina Filimonova, a senior nurse in the pediatric urology department, told CNN.

“The lights went out, everything went out. We pulled out the tools, flashing lights. Everything was sewn up quickly,” Filimonova said. “The child was brought down (to the shelter). I immediately ran and helped clear the debris. Some of my nursing colleagues and some of the doctors who worked in the operating theaters were cut by shards of glass. Our sector was destroyed.

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Another operating theater nurse, Oksana Mosichuk, said they sought refuge in the emergency room when the explosion rocked the building. The medical team then had to put out a fire in their unit, including an operating table that caught fire.

“Luckily everyone is alive. One of our colleagues was seriously injured, with numerous cuts and lacerations, and was taken away by ambulance. I also have minor injuries, but I’m fine. It was very scary. I was scared for the children,” she said.

Medical staff and community members are moving debris from damaged areas of the hospital and searching for survivors.

The UN Security Council will hold a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss Russia’s deadly strike on a children’s hospital after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called an emergency meeting in response to the attacks.

In a post on X, the Ukrainian leader said the exact number of hospital casualties was still unknown and that “there are people under the rubble” but that everyone from doctors to local residents were helping to clear the debris after the strike.

“Apartment buildings, infrastructure, children’s hospital were damaged. All services are involved in rescuing as many people as possible,” Zelensky wrote in a post on X.

Reacting to Monday’s bombing, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Rustem Umerov said the country’s infrastructure had been targeted by four dozen Kalibr cruise missiles and Kinzel aero-ballistic missiles launched from Russia’s Volgograd region.

Ukraine shot down 30 of the 38 missiles launched by Russia during Monday’s attack, the commander of Ukraine’s air force said in a statement.

In a statement, Umerov continued to plead for more air defense systems to support the war-torn country. Zelensky has repeatedly called on the West to provide more air defense systems to better protect its cities. Last month, after the two presidents signed a defense pact between their countries on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Italy, he praised Biden for prioritizing the provision of air defense systems.

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Air raid sirens continued to wail over Kyiv, and CNN video showed evacuees outside hospitals pushing children on stretchers to safety in shelters. Scores of volunteers then dropped off much-needed supplies and donations — including water, food, medicine and diapers — to the hospital.

The United Kingdom’s new prime minister, Keir Starmer, condemned the shelling in several European countries, describing the hospital strike on innocent children as a “horrible act”. France called for the attack “to be added to the list of war crimes that Russia will take into account”.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 1,600 heavy weapons attacks have hit medical facilities since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, with 141 people killed in these attacks.

Last December, 12 pregnant women and four newborn babies had a lucky escape from a maternity hospital in Dnipro that was heavily damaged in an airstrike. Earlier, the bombing of a maternity and children’s hospital in Mariupol sparked international condemnation less than a month after Russian troops flooded the border.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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