Ukrainian cities on brink of medical crisis, warns health minister

The embattled Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv and Kherson will be gripped by a “total humanitarian crisis” and hospitals could struggle to provide basic medical care within days unless a demilitarized corridor for essential supplies is established, the government minister co-ordinating the aid effort has warned .

Oleksii Iaremenko, Ukraine’s deputy health minister, told the FT the government had asked the Red Cross to urgently organize a “humanitarian corridor” to ease the flow of aid and medical supplies within Ukraine but it had implemented “almost impossible” to get Russia to agree .

“The problem is growing and growing and it’s only been a week,” he said, referring to the shortage of medical supplies. “In Kharkiv, we have quite a large medical infrastructure and we have enough hospitals but bombs are falling and patients are coming too fast.”

Supply lines to several major cities have broken down, according to the minister. “For now in Kherson, Kharkiv and some other cities, it’s impossible to deliver medicines to hospitals and we don’t have a humanitarian corridor,” Iaremenko said. “Roads to these cities are not under control. . . in two to three days in some regions we expect a total humanitarian crisis if nothing changes. ”

However, he said there were sufficient supplies in the capital Kyiv and the port city of Mariupol, despite a large Russian troop presence nearby and heavy shelling in recent days.

A woman wounded during a rocket attack lies in a hospital bed in Mariupol, Ukraine

Ukrainian authorities might soon have to postpone other care to focus on treating people wounded in the conflict, a WHO official said © Evgeniy Maloletka / AP

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has been battered by heavy bombardments since the Russian invasion was launched eight days ago, while the port city of Kherson has been the scene of heavy fighting, with the Russian military claiming late on Wednesday it had seized. complete control ”of the area.

Iaremenko said he feared Russia was “specifically targeting” civilian infrastructure, including healthcare facilities, with air raids. He confirmed two hospitals had been “destroyed” and at least 10 other healthcare facilities had been damaged by bombardment and rocket attacks.

“We have faced unprecedented cruelty towards our inhabitants. It’s not just military infrastructure they are targeting, they are targeting our civilians and it brings huge damages to our population. It’s horrible to see, ”Yaremenko said.

On Wednesday, at a press conference, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization director-general, said there was “an urgent need to establish a corridor to ensure humanitarian workers and supplies have safe and continuous access to reach people in need”.

Without the quick implementation of an aid corridor, Yaremenko predicted that “hospitals will not have enough medicines and resources to provide essential health services to the population”.

Firefighters work to contain a fire in a building complex in Kharkiv
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has been battered by heavy bombardments since the Russian invasion was launched eight days ago © Sergey Bobok / AFP / Getty Images

Jarno Habicht, the WHO’s representative in Ukraine, told the FT supplies of oxygen and some medicines were running low. Three of the country’s oxygen plants had stopped production due to the military offensive. Even when reserves were available, “the difficulty is how you get oxygen from the factors to the facilities because there are no safe passages”, he added.

Habicht said he believed that the authorities might soon have to postpone other care to focus on treating the wounded and Covid patients. Covid cases in Ukraine had been “just starting to plateau”, he noted, but there are fears of a resurgence given the cramped and stressful conditions in which people are being forced to live as the conflict escalates.

Habicht suggested hospitals might now be repurposed “to provide really essential [trauma] care to keep people alive ”. He said that would mean the treatment of chronic diseases that require regular check-ups would be interrupted.

So far, at least 86 countries and 13 international organizations have offered humanitarian aid, according to the minister. More than 500 foreign healthcare staff have volunteered to provide medical care in Ukraine, according to the Ministry of Health, following a request for assistance from foreign medics willing to travel to the war zone.

Iaremenko said the crisis would not subside until Russian troops withdrew or western countries implemented a no fly-zone over Ukraine. “There could only be one message: stop the war,” he said. “It’s unbelievable what’s happening right now. It’s not war in Ukraine, it’s war in Europe – no one expected it to happen but it’s our new reality. “

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