Photos: Ukrainian surgeons on their own front line

11 months ago 17

Published On 26 Jul 2023

The horrors of war arrive through the night at a hospital in eastern Ukraine, a procession of stretchers bearing limp bodies whisked from the front line.

The soldiers come with bandaged limbs soaked in blood, faces blackened with shrapnel fragments and stunned eyes fixed on the ceiling, frozen in shock. Lately, they’ve been coming with ever-greater frequency.

The surge of wounded soldiers coincides with the major counteroffensive Ukraine launched in June to try to recapture its land, nearly one-fifth of which is now under Russian control. Surgeons at Mechnikov Hospital in Dnipro are busier now than perhaps at any other time since Russia began its full-scale invasion 17 months ago, according to doctors.

In a war where casualty counts are treated as state secrets, the hospital — one of Ukraine’s biggest — serves as a measurement of distant battles. When they intensify, so does the doctors’ workload, which these days consists of 50 to 100 surgeries per night.

During the day, Mechnikov functions as a normal hospital, treating patients with cancer and other chronic diseases. But every night ushers in the same macabre routine: Wounded soldiers arrive — many unconscious — and surgeons operate. The soldiers are then sent off to recover elsewhere to create space for the next nightly deluge.

“We hold our own front line here; we understand that we must do this, we must hold on,” said Dr Tetyana Teshyna, a soft-spoken anesthesiologist wearing pink scrubs.

As evening comes, the pace of activity in the trauma room picks up, with new soldiers arriving nearly every 15 minutes.

Oleh Halah, 22, was hit by artillery from a Russian tank near Lyman this month, injuring his stomach and legs. Straining to speak in the hospital’s intensive care unit, Halah said his platoon saw the tank coming, but the artillery hit them before they could reach their grenade launcher.

“Twenty-four hours a day, constant shooting, all the time … if not [Russian] infantry, then artillery,” he said. “It doesn’t stop.”

On Dr Mykyta Lombrozov’s operating table is a soldier who sustained a shrapnel injury to the left part of the brain. It’s a complicated surgery that would normally take up to four hours. The war has taught Lombrozov to finish it in 55 minutes. He does it every day, he says, sometimes up to eight times in a single 24-hour shift.

“It is very important to me, that’s why I am here. That’s why we all work here,” Lombrozov said as he looked down at the soldier. “He is our hero.”

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