Ukrainian maternity hospital treating wounded soldiers as Russia conflict escalates

The hospital CEO said up to 10 soldiers a day seek treatment for injuries.

March 1, 2022, 11:30 AM

This is a MedPage Today story.

Despite the conflict surrounding them, Dr. Valery Zukin, CEO of a private maternity hospital in western Kyiv, Ukraine, -- just five to 10 kilometers from the "zone of fire" -- said the staff have no choice but to continue to work.

Over the previous four days, doctors, nurses, midwives and cooks have stayed overnight at the hospital. Some doctors and nurses have brought their children as well.

"And for this moment, we must stay like a big family," Zukin told MedPage Today.

Life has changed dramatically for Ukrainians in only a few days, he said.

PHOTO: Pregnant women sit in the basement of a maternity hospital converted into a medical ward and used as a bomb shelter during air raid alerts, in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 2, 2022.
Pregnant women sit in the basement of a maternity hospital converted into a medical ward and used as a bomb shelter during air raid alerts, in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 2, 2022.
Efrem Lukatsky/AP

"We could not imag[ine] for example that a few days ago ... we live by another life," he said. "If, for example, you must stay in your working place without change. You could not go at home [without] special permission. You couldn't go in the shop because all [of] the shop[s] are closed. You could not move by the car ... and you must go according to some signal in the shelter and you never could imag[ine] it will happen during the day or during the night. You understand that it is a very stress[ful] situation."

Because moving around Kyiv is "absolutely forbidden," the hospital must work with police to inform different posts throughout the city when a patient needs to be moved into or out of the hospital.

Zukin compares life in the hospital underground to working on a Navy boat. To maintain a sense of structure and calm, "all the [crew] they stay on the ship all the time, but they have some working hours and some ... sleeping, resting hours," he said.

A psychologist can do Skype consultations to help staff cope with the new stress.

As of Saturday, Zukin said around 60 doctors, nurses, and midwives and 25 patients and 17 babies were in the hospital.

"We have a lot of Ukrainian patient[s] from [other] cities, and for this moment, we must care for all of these people, for all of these babies," he said.

Zukin spoke with a man whose wife had just given birth in the hospital a few days earlier. He is Italian, she is Ukrainian and they have an apartment in Kyiv, but it's on the 21st floor. Until he finds a way to leave Ukraine, the husband wants his wife to stay in the hospital.

"She has no good place to go," Zukin said.

The hospital is not only serving pregnant women and mothers, but also wounded patients.

"Every day, we have eight, 10 of our soldiers," he said, clarifying that these aren't members of the Ukrainian military but volunteers for the territorial defense, who arrive with head wounds, chest wounds and injuries to their hands and legs.

Because the hospital has something known as GCI certification, all doctors are trained to provide basic life support, which is akin to military medicine. So, a patient with a brain injury can be sent to the neurological hospital, but the staff there can help with the initial primary medical care.

"We have very qualified anesthesiologist and very qualified anesthesiologist nurses," and can provide the necessary care, he said.

Last week, Zukin said his staff shared a post on Facebook calling for help with supplies, and strangers brought them food, water and medications.

A car came and delivered their dinner the other night. He initially thought the delivery was from an organized charity group, but it was actually a private restaurant.

PHOTO: Mothers tend to their babies that are receiving medical treatment in the bomb shelter of the paediatric ward of a hospital in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 28, 2022.
Mothers tend to their babies that are receiving medical treatment in the bomb shelter of the paediatric ward of a hospital in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 28, 2022.
Chris Mcgrath/Getty Images

"You understand that [it] is not safe to come now in our part of Kyiv," he said, moved by the gesture.

President Vladimir Putin's "big mistake" Zukin said, has been to underestimate Ukrainians' commitment to freedom.

"I promise [the driver] that we will celebrate our win in this restaurant [with] the staff who stay now in the hospital," he said.

This was a light and hopeful moment for Zukin, but everyone is struggling.

"I think that every day [we are] waiting, it is a problem for Ukraine," he said, and each day more soldiers are killed.

"I think that this war must be killed in the embryonic stage," he said, comparing it to fire, as it grows "more and more, it will be more difficult to stop." If the West continues to ignore Putin, World War II will repeat itself, he said.

"We hope that all of this movement against Russia it will be very quick," he said. "Ukraine is not so powerful country but in spite of this. The general feeling of all the people is to defend their country, their democracy."

Zukin continued, "We hope for the support of [the] United States and Western Europe. Without support, we could not survive and we could not win."

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