Fourteen year old Davyd was undergoing a complicated six-hour heart operation when Russian missiles rained down in Kyiv on Nov. 23 and the lights went out.
“We were terrified for our son,” his mother Ksenia tells Kyiv Post. “We could hear the sounds of explosions.
“We were asked to go to the bomb shelter but how can we leave when our child is in the operating room?”
Since Russia began its systematic targeting of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure on Oct. 10, regular blackouts have become a way of life in cities across the country. In Kyiv’s residential buildings this potentially means long hours of darkness with little entertainment.
But for the capital’s hospitals it can mean life or death and doctors and surgeons at the Heart Institute have had to adapt rapidly to the increasingly precarious conditions.
Davyd’s operation continued with surgeons operating by the illumination of flashlights until the hospital’s generators kicked in around 10 minutes after the power went out. The operation was a success and Davyd was back home on Thursday.
“The doctors were like bees in a hive and continued to do their job without any panic,” says Ksenia.
The same cannot be said of some of the relatives of the three children who were in the intensive care unit at the time of the attack.
Ruslana Kureychikova, who heads the unit, tells Kyiv Post: “Some parents started breaking into the intensive care unit without permission, trying to check if their child is okay.
“Some relatives had a panic attack as there were 20 adults in the intensive care unit besides children.”
The Heart Institute achieved a viral fame of sorts after the Nov. 23 attack after its head, Borys Todurov, posted recorded footage of his staff operating by torchlight.
Posting it on Instagram, he wrote: “The Heart Institute has 190 patients and 300 employees. We have been without water for several hours now. So far, we are coping on our own, but every hour is getting harder. We continue to do only emergency operations. We will spend the night in the clinic.
Patient David and the head of the children’s intensive care unit Ruslana Kureychikova in the Heart Institute. Photo by Aleksandra Klitina.
“We need to control the situation. I thank all the staff for their coordinated and selfless work. In this unusual situation, we have not lost a single patient.”
Kureychikova notes a saving grace of sorts in the current situation of war – they have fewer child patients as many left Ukraine as refugees. Yet, before the current Russian missile campaign began, Kyiv was seen as a safe place for children from more dangerous parts of the country to come for care.
“Once, in March we received children orphanages from regions where fighting was taking place. About 20 orphans from Sumy Region arrived only with their names and diagnoses written on their hands.
“We treated them and two of them have already been adopted by couples here in Kyiv.”
There are no indications that Russia plans to let up its bombing campaign and Kyiv has been braced all week for the next attack – it’s not a question of if, but when.
Last month the World Health Organization (WHO) said Ukraine was facing the “darkest days in the war so far” and millions of people are at risk from a “life-threatening” winter.
WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge has said the devastating energy crisis, deepening mental health emergency, constraints on humanitarian access, and the risk of viral infections “will make this winter a formidable test for the Ukrainian health system”.
On the ground in Kyiv, the Heart Institute is preparing as best it can.
Mikhailo Zahriychuk, the chief of the division of kidney transplant surgery, of the Heart Institute. Photo by Aleksandra Klitina.
“We were prepared for the shelling,” says Mikhailo Zahriychuk, the chief of the division of kidney transplant surgery. “The management organized the purchase of generators, but during that Russian attack, there was an unpleasant situation when the power was completely lost.
“Luckily, everything was fine, and the patient [in the Instagram video] is now undergoing planned rehabilitation.
“However, when the light goes out during the operation, it is still terrible.”
Mikhailo Zahriychuk, the chief of the division of kidney transplant surgery, of the Heart Institute in the operation room. Photo credit Mikhailo Zahriychuk Facebook.
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