Hospitals have been pillaged, doctors imprisoned, and patients denied vital medical care by Russian soldiers in Ukraine, according to a landmark investigation which uncovers hundreds of potential war crimes committed by Vladimir Putin’s forces.
Doctors have spent up to 24 hours a day manually resuscitating premature babies after the destruction of medical equipment, while Russian troops have stopped civilians from taking life-saving insulin, leaving them to slowly die, the report adds.
The investigation, carried out by several aid and medical groups, documents more than 700 attacks on Ukrainian hospitals, health workers and ambulances in 2022 – an average of more than two attacks a day.
It recorded 218 strikes on hospitals and clinics, 65 on ambulances, and 181 on other health infrastructure, such as pharmacies and blood donation centers.
Attacking civilian healthcare constitutes a war crime – yet the report authors warn such offenses remain under-investigated.
“The attacks have been massive in scale, took place all over Ukraine, and were deliberate,” said Diana Rusnak, an analyst at the Ukrainian Health Center, which contributed to the report.
“They present a pattern, a course of conduct that could potentially constitute crimes against humanity. The evidence illustrates these crimes are not a coincidence. This is the Russian policy.”
Some 62 health workers have been killed throughout the war, with others threatened, imprisoned, taken hostage, and forced to work under Russian occupation, the report said.
Close to nine per cent of Ukraine’s hospitals have been directly damaged by attacksit added, with the heaviest destruction in the eastern oblasts of Kharkivska, Donetska, Luhanska, and Khersonska.
The financial damage has been colossal. As of August 2022, the direct damage to Ukraine’s health sector was estimated at $1.4 billion, according to international estimates.
“The findings are deeply disturbing and alarming,” said co-author Christian De Vos, director of research and investigations at Physicians for Human Rights. [PHR]. “The fact that the attacks on health have been so under investigated and prosecuted lends this all the more urgency.”
Diabetics ‘deprived of insulin’
The report, which was developed from open-source and confidential information gathered throughout 2022, includes testimonials from medical workers in attacked hospitals.
A doctor, speaking on the condition of anonymity, detailed how he was forced to hand over access to the electronic database of patients to Russian occupiers.
“I was worried, because the week before, I had received a patient from the occupied city of Mykolaiv oblast; he was a former member of the Anti-Terrorist Operation suffering from diabetes,” their testimony reads.
“The Russians found out about his illness, arrested him, and waited for him to die slowly without insulin.”
Another doctor provides testimony describing a missile hitting the hospital. “It was between the sixth and seventh floors. The impact caused one floor to fall on top of the other. Neurosurgery was on the sixth floor and there were patients who were crushed by the slab,” they said.
“Doctors had to manually resuscitate premature babies who would usually require special life support equipment,” reads the log of an attack on Chernihiv’s children’s hospital, which killed 14 and injured 26.
“Medics had to manually resuscitate premature babies for 24 hours a day,” added Uliana Poltavets, the Ukraine Emergency Response Coordinator for Physicians for Human Rights.
Healthcare facilities have also been looted, according to the findings.
In April 2022, Mariupol City Council reported that around 60 ventilators had been stolen from city hospitals and transported to Russia.
Meanwhile, in May, Ukraine’s military intelligence service reported that all equipment was removed from the infectious diseases department of the Starobilsk Multiprofile Hospital and taken to Russia.
One in every three Ukrainians lack access to medical services, the report says. These impacts will be felt for years to come.
“Attacks on health have had these cascading effects that extend far beyond the attack on the hospital itself,” said Mr. De Vos.
One impact is on vaccination rates. Ukraine’s Ministry of Health has reported a dramatic drop in routine vaccines since the onset of the Russian invasion, risking outbreaks of polio, measles and diphtheria.
“The months and years of destabilization these kinds of attacks can have, frankly, is why I think healthcare is so, so often targeted,” said Mr. De Vos.
Targeting or indiscriminately striking healthcare infrastructure and workers constitute war crimes.
“Attacks on hospitals, including military hospitals, are violations of the laws of war, unless an armed force is using the hospital to launch attacks. Combatants who order or carry out attacks on hospitals deliberately or recklessly are responsible for war crimes,” James Ross, Legal and Policy Director, Human Rights Watch, told the Telegraph.
“Over 65 percent of all attacks on healthcare facilities worldwide in 2022 occurred in Ukraine. Targeting civilian infrastructure is a gross violation of humanitarian law,” said Jaime Nadal, UNFPA representative in Ukraine.
The report says that many of the attacked hospitals bore internationally recognized symbols of their status as medical centers, which were clearly visible from the air.
Now the authors are calling for the crimes to be investigated. “We want this report to end up in the hands of prosecutors and investigators,” said Mr. De Vos.
The investigation was a joint undertaking by Physicians for Human Rights, the Ukrainian Healthcare Center, the Media Initiative for Human Rights, eyeWitness to Atrocities, and Insecurity Insight.
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