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War in Ukraine, the testimony of Mariarosaria Borraccia of Soleterre

“For me, this is the end of the world. Deliberately attacking a hospital where children with cancer are being treated.” These are the words of Damiano Rizziclinical psychologist and president of the Soleterre Foundation, which has been assisting children with cancer in Ukraine for twenty years. Where there has been war for two and a half years. These are the words he wrote a few hours after the Russian missile attack that hit several Ukrainian cities on the night between July 7 and 8. Among these, the capital Kiev and in particular two civilian hospitals: Okhmatdyt, the largest pediatric institution in Ukraine and a private maternity clinic. In the first images published by Soleterre, children with cancer were seen sitting outside the affected hospital, one next to the other, with their respective IVs. In line before being evacuated and transferred to other health facilities or shelters, including those managed and financed by Soleterre. They were sitting in line, some with their eyes turned to the sky, all undergoing therapy. A few hours later, Damiano Rizzi published another image, this time from inside a bunker. Once again, children in need of treatment were sitting in line, while the missiles continued to fall outside.

Children’s hospital hit in KievROMAN PILIPEY/Getty Images

“I am shocked to see that a human being can decide to voluntarily attack a hospital and in particular a pediatric hospital,” she says. Mariarosaria Borraccia, head of the health program of Soleterre who answered us directly from Kiev, where these days working with the hospital staff to manage the ongoing emergency. “All this makes it clear that nowhere in Ukraine can you be safe. Residential buildings, public buildings, hospitals where people go every day to be saved, treated are hit. Places where people go to try to move on with their lives. It is truly unacceptable that a person enters a place where he hopes to find salvation and instead finds death, by the will of a human being”.

What is the current situation?

“What happened is unacceptable and causes a lot of anger. It is hard to believe something like this and it was even harder to go there and see that it is all true. We have been working every day for many years in that hospital, it is a place where the staff does everything they can to carry out the children’s therapies and to see the work of so many years destroyed, crumbled is truly sad and unacceptable. The adjacent buildings were also damaged, so at the moment the hospital is closed, the children have all been evacuated, the wards are not usable, the machines that could be pulled out are in the garden, in the hospital road and are all destroyed. We took a tour of the rooms of some wards and the entire electrical and ventilation system was blown up, there are no more windows because they collapsed due to the shock wave. There will be a lot of reconstruction work to do in buildings that had recently been renovated. It is even more infuriating because it is the largest hospital in Ukraine where there are specific departments that are only found there and not in the rest of the country.”

Children's hospital hit in Kiev
Children’s hospital hit in KievROMAN PILIPEY/Getty Images

How are the children and families doing?

“In these hours we met the psychologists who work with us and they welcomed the first patients who were evacuated from the hospital and placed in other facilities to continue their treatment. We are talking about children who were also hospitalized and must undergo constant therapies so they cannot be sent home.”

Where are they now?

«They were sent to other health facilities and various shelters available, including those in Soleterre».

Children's hospital hit in Kiev
Children’s hospital hit in KievROMAN PILIPEY/Getty Images

What is the situation reported by psychologists?

“Dramatic. There are families who have problems with repressing what happened, their brains have completely repressed it, while others have the opposite situation, that is, they continually relive what happened and are unable to process the drama. The work they are doing is trying to make them aware of what happened, it is a very long process. There was a lot to do before because people have been living in a war for more than two years with alarms ringing day and night and their daily lives disrupted. If you find yourself in the middle of a missile attack, the situation is even more difficult to deal with.”

How is the medical staff?

“The doctors remained on site all night to understand if there were still any missing, unfortunately some people were pulled out of the rubble lifeless. Everyone was quite shocked, scared and the psychologists told us that they realized quite late that they were all in burnout.”

Children's hospital hit in Kiev
Children’s hospital hit in KievROMAN PILIPEY/Getty Images

Are there no resources?

“We are in a situation that has been going on for two and a half years and people keep going because they have to. The hospital works despite the war because it needs to work, there is a need to provide assistance to children, both sick children and in our case we are talking about children with cancer but also children who are victims of the war, so children with amputations, burns, injured children. In addition, a lot of staff has been recruited by the army. Our referring doctor for physical rehabilitation told us a few days ago that he was very tired because he was working understaffed because all his male staff were forced to go into the army. This situation affects the whole country and in this hospital which is the largest, it is felt even more.”

What do you remember about the night of the attack?

“Sirens sounded all over the country, normally they only sound in the direction of the missile or if it is a MIG they sound all over the country like in this case. There hasn’t been such a massive attack on the capital since October 2022. The missiles arrived in Kiev at 9.50, some were intercepted but not all and those that fell caused huge damage, including to our hospital. The building that contained the intensive care unit was completely hit, next to this building that collapsed was the department where children were undergoing hemodialysis so there were also cancer patients. A huge explosion was heard, all the floors started to shake, there were screams, desperation, crying, everywhere, both among the patients and their families but also among the medical staff: we are all human beings. People rushed outside to understand what was happening and outside there was a disaster, dust everywhere, rubble, the building that continued to collapse on itself. So much fear everywhere, among everyone, children, families, caregivers and doctors. The rescue machine started immediately”.

Children's hospital hit in Kiev
Children’s hospital hit in KievROMAN PILIPEY/Getty Images

Source: Vanity Fair

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