Sick kids in Ukraine are fighting two wars to survive as they hide from bombings in hospital basements
As Russia continues to attack Ukraine, people around the world have been praying for peace as well as for the safety of all Ukrainians — both soldiers and civilians. But for the parents of Ukraine’s youngest cancer patients, this war is very directly threatening their children’s lives — lives that they’ve already been fighting for tooth and nail.
That’s because in the days since Russia’s invasion began, basements of children’s hospitals across Ukraine swiftly turned into bomb shelters, reported NBC News. Let that sink in: the place that is supposed to be healing sick children is now simply trying to protect them from deadly explosions. And as adults fight around them, they still have no choice but to continue battling for their own lives.
But as these little ones continue internal wars while also getting used to their new makeshift hospital beds — mattresses lining the floors of underground hallways — sounds of gunfire, bomb sirens and war explode around them. According to NBC, their parents’ calming words try to drown out the sounds terror as doctors and nurses struggle to make the most out of limited resources available.
And for many parents, that has meant stepping in where recommended treatments and health providers no longer can at the moment. ”
These children suffer more because they need to stay alive to fight with the cancer — and this fight cannot wait,” Dr. Lesia Lysytsia told NBC during a phone call from the basement of Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital in Kyiv.
According to Time, 16 children in Ukraine have died and 45 have been injured since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24, and most of these kids have been brought to Okhmatdyt. Those on life support or in critical condition simply can’t be moved somewhere safer.
Lysytsia explained that in addition to limited amounts of certain medications, food and water, cancer treatments are also minimally available — if at all — for their sick children. While some are able to get at least basic chemotherapy, others have had to stop their life-saving treatments. If this continues, Lysytsia said, “our patients, they will die.”
“We will calculate how many people or soldiers have died in attacks, but we will never calculate how many patients weren’t diagnosed of a disease in time, how many patients died because they didn’t receive treatment,” she added. “It’s an epic amount of people.”
In desperate attempts to keep their children from becoming one of those statistics, parents have resorted to transfusing their own blood to their sick little ones. Julia Nogovitsyna, program director at Tabletochki, Ukraine’s largest child cancer charity, explained to NBC News that some parents have been forced to try this because of the limited supplies at Kyiv Regional Oncology Center as kids’ blood counts plummet.
At this point, the only other option is evacuating these sick children, but given what is going on outside hospital walls, they’ll face dangerous uncertainty and some of these kids don’t have the luxury of time to risk it. “Patients and their parents ask me if it’s safe, and I say, ‘I don’t know,'” Lysytsia added. “I don’t even know if it’s safe to go outside. It’s possible they go out near the hospital and they’ll be attacked.”
Doctors are still urgently trying to get their sickest patients to medical centers in safer areas with more supplies available. One of the facilities, in Lviv in western Ukraine, would ideally just be a stopping point before moving children in the most dire conditions to Poland. However, according to NBC, the possibility of this is becoming increasingly difficult as the war rages on and tensions rise as the border is flooded.
Nogovitsyna described one of the patients currently attempting to make this journey: a 37-day-old baby girl who was born with leukemia. “She is the most difficult one out of all patients,” said Nogovitsyna. “I don’t know how she will survive this.”
But although little is known about how things will turn out, Nogovitsyna and Lysytsia, like countless others, are certain of one thing — nothing will stop them from continuing to do everything they can for these children.
For Lysytsia, that means being camped out in the hospital basement with her family, and staying for as long as it takes. “We will do everything that is important for our patients,” she said, “and we will stay until the end.”
For others who want to help these families, there are options. Tabletochki Charity Foundation is raising money along with GlobalGiving. In addition to donations, those looking to get involved can organize their own charity events and fundraising campaigns through Tabletochki.
Other charities raising money to help children in Ukraine include:
- Charitable Foundation Zaporuka
- The Ukrainian Red Cross
- Save the Children’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund
- Afya Foundation
- Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
- The Ukrainian Red Cross
- Voices of Children
- GlobalGiving Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund
- The International Rescue Committee
- Project HOPE
- The Polish Red Cross
- International Medical Corps
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