Izyum hospital in eastern Ukraine never stopped functioning during the six months of Russian control and the eight months of conflict, treating injured citizens in its basement while they awaited freedom.
Moscow grabbed control of this tiny but important town in the Kharkiv area in March, and it was completely overrun a month later.
Although its pre-war population of about 46,000 people has decreased to about 8,000 or 9,000 people, its recapture by Ukrainian forces on September 11 was a strategic triumph for Kyiv.
Since then, a generator has been linked to the hospital, and workmen have been progressively replacing broken windows to restore some sort of normalcy.
A patient is walking through a bleach-scented heated ground floor hallway while wearing his pajamas, while a janitor sweeps the floor, and a secretary works on admittance paperwork.
The hospital’s 52-year-old surgeon director, Yuri Kuznetsov, claims that there are already 200 patients as opposed to 50 in June.
He points to the massive hole and devastation caused by a missile assault in March and explains, “This was where our operating room and acute care unit used to be.”
The doctor, whose face was lined with fatigue, attributes his weariness to his night shift rather than the six months during which he had spent every waking hour caring for the injured among the mud and wreckage, right in front of the occupying Russian forces who had established up camp next door.
The beginning of the occupation, when it was unclear what they would do to us, was the most challenging, he says.
Although there were “some challenges in the outset,” according to Kuznetsov, the Russians allowed him to continue caring for Ukrainian patients with the assistance of a few nurses who stayed behind.
In a nearby basement, the Russian forces built their own field hospital.
“They were right there, approximately 20 yards from my office,” claims Kuznetsov, who claims they spoke to him every day but never requested that he perform surgery on injured Russian soldiers.
He remembers those terrible days and says, “Doing our work wasn’t the toughest thing. The hardest thing was just remaining alive.”
Several weeks after the town of Izyum was retaken, Ukraine claimed to have found a mass grave in a neighboring woodland with at least 450 remains the majority of which showed evidence of brutal death.
As surgical tables and stretchers.
The hospital has lost two employees since the conflict started: a forensic scientist who was shot dead and a doctor who passed away under the debris of his own house.
The hospital established an emergency department in the basement where discolored stretchers acted as surgical tables among stacks of cardboard boxes and mud as the town was continuously being bombarded.
We lost victims because we lacked the necessary tools and medications, but thanks to God, we were able to reduce the number of fatalities, he added.
A guy who had been shot in the abdomen was among those saved.
“A few weeks ago, the man entered my office via the open door and asked: “Doctor, do you remember me?” I’m still here!” “Says Kuznetsov.
“Each of us has experienced times while considering running away. Each of us has experienced fits of rage and depressive spells, “He concedes.
He says with a smile, anxious to return home and finally lay his head down for some rest, “But it’s times like that and the solidarity of my coworkers that have kept me here.”