Doctors, the crater refuted the hospital air strike in Ukraine

LORI HINANT and MSTYSLAW CHERNOW

April 8, 2022 GMT

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) – A woman on the verge of childbirth with a broken leg. The shock wave that shattered the glass and ceramic cladding of the room with medical waste. A nurse who received a concussion.

This is what Ukrainian doctors remember about the Russian air strike that destroyed the Mariupol maternity hospital where they once worked. And these memories now – all they have left from the day they would like to forget: Russian soldiers cleared the evidence from their phones when fleeing from Mariupol.

“One blow just was nothing, no children’s clinic, just demolished, “- said Acting Director of Hospital № 3 in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, Dr. Ludmila Mikhailenko. The sprawling courtyard of the hospital complex was – and remains – “one solid crater from shells.”

The three doctors and a paramedic spoke to the Associated Press to offer new details on the March 9 air strike, which occurred when communications were virtually severed, and to counter recent Russian disinformation. They left the city separately in private cars, like thousands from Mariupol in recent weeks, and are now scattered across other cities in Ukraine and Poland.

Their testimonies, as well as AP reports, AP footage from the scene and interviews with munitions experts who analyzed the size of the crater from the shells, directly contradict Russia’s claims that there was no air strike. Russian officials have repeatedly tried to dispel suspicions of atrocities in Mariupoldestroyed a city in eastern Ukraine that is a key Russian military target.

Two of the three doctors, like most of those passing through Russian checkpoints on the way out of Mariupol, said their mobile phones were searched and videos and photos of the city were removed. People with suspicious images or without documents were separated, but it is unclear what happened to them in the end.

“I had lists on my phone, I had photos, I had everything, but we were urged to remove it all,” said Mikhailenko, who spoke for two hours almost non-stop with a firm determination to describe the attack and its narrow escape. “The dump was removed. … We had videos of everything that happened in the city, but they forced us to remove it. “

Most recently, a Russian-linked Twitter account last week shared an interview with Mariana Vishegirskaya, one of the women in the maternity ward. Vishegirskaya, dressed in polka dot pajamas and looking stunned, came out of the air strike on the hospital almost intact.

In a recent interview, the new mother said the hospital was not hit by an air strike last month. She described the explosions as a pair of shells hitting nearby, saying she had not heard the planes. She left unclear who could be responsible.

She said the basement survivors agreed as they discussed it in the following moments.

“They didn’t hear either. It was said to be a projectile that flew in from somewhere. That is, not from heaven, ”she said in an interview.

Now Vyshegirskaya is in Russian-controlled territory, but it is unknown exactly where and under what conditions the interview was filmed.

However, a group of Associated Press reporters working on the ground in Mariupol nearby documented the sound of a plane and then double explosions. According to two munitions experts consulted by the Associated Press, one of the explosions blew up a crater more than two floors in the yard – corresponding to an air strike using a 500-pound bomb and much stronger than crossfire artillery fire.

Explosions in Mariupol on March 9, 2022.

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Joseph Bermudez, an image analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the size of the hole and the visible effects of the impact on surrounding buildings leave no doubt that it was an air strike.

The attack on Mariupol Hospital was one of at least 37 Russian strikes on medical facilities across Ukraine recorded by the Associated Press. During the war, every hospital in the city was hit at least once by shelling or air strikes – the first was just four days after the fighting. Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boychenko said on Wednesday that Russian attacks on the city’s hospitals had burned 50 people.

It was a relatively quiet day before the attack at the Mariupol hospital.

Dr. Yana Frantsusova was sorting medical waste in a room in another hospital building when tiles and glass shattered around her. It was about 2:45 p.m. She began to run, but the shockwave closed the door in front of her face.

“I ran out with difficulty, and all of us, all the people from my ward, all the nurses, the doctors who were there, everyone was already on the floor,” she said. “Then there was another explosion.”

Frantsusova had already survived an air strike on the house next to her, and it felt the same – a strong shock wave, and then complete destruction. She and her team of medics rose from the floor to take the wounded and those who could walk.

Among pregnant women who are most at risk, “one had already given birth when she was brought to us,” she said. Another was an open wound on the thigh. The third was in a state of couch shock, with shrapnel wounds in both legs.

AP reporters shot two large clouds of smoke in the distance in the direction of the air strike. It then took them about 25 minutes to arrive at the scene.

By then there was chaos. Doctors rushed up the stairs to knock down all those who could not on their own two feet. Children and expectant parents took to the apocalyptic stage with blackened trees, smoldering earth and a crater large enough to swallow a truck.

Vishegirskaya was already on the street, hugged her shoulders with a blanket. When an AP reporter with a camera asked how she was, she replied “OK” and then went to try to pick up her things from the hospital. In an interview with Russian media, she falsely stated that she told AP reporters that she did not want to be filmed.

Paramedic Syarhei Charnabryvets, who was at the scene that day, described the injuries of several women. He said he was unable to determine the source of the blasts, but confirmed serious damage to the hospital.

Dr. Yulia Kucharuk, one of the doctors at the maternity ward, said that the nurse had a concussion and another nurse was shocked. She added that it made no sense to stay to try to retrieve suitable medical supplies because “everything was destroyed in chaos”. Kucharuk only briefly told about the day in which it hurts to return.

Several women were transferred to another hospital, including Vishegirskaya and a woman with a pelvic fracture who died along with an unborn child the same day. Vishegirskaya gave birth to a baby girl the next day.

By then, the Russian disinformation campaign was in full swing. The country’s embassy in the United Kingdom shared photos of Vishagirskaya and another woman injured on a stretcher, posting the word “FALKI” over the images and claiming that Vishagirskaya posed for both in “realistic makeup.” Misinformation was repeated by Russian ambassadors to other parts of the world.

Russia blames the Ukrainian shelling for attacks on hospitals, including a maternity hospital in Mariupol, although their history of violence that day has changed over time.

Distorting the truth about war crimes is a deliberate Russian tactic, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a nightly address Monday, just three days after Vishagirskaya’s interview was published in Russian media.

“They have already launched a campaign of fakes to hide their guilt in the mass killings of civilians in Mariupol,” he said.

On March 17, the hospital was hit again, and four or five patients standing in the corridors were killed, Mikhailenko said. If there was no one to pick up the bodies, they were buried on the hospital grounds.

A few days later, in despair and because of a foot disease that made it harder to escape the shelling, she and her family collected what they had left and put it in the car.

At the first checkpoint her phone was erased. On the second they searched their belongings and confiscated a single knife. They were making their way through a minefield where a car had exploded the day before. More than two weeks later, they reached a safe place in Poland.

On March 24, Kucharuk also left for Western Ukraine. She passed through 20 Russian checkpoints, including one where her mobile phone was searched and its contents removed.

Now most of the doctors in Mariupol have fled, and the city has been left without a full-fledged hospital. They have lost the lives and careers they built, and can only hope against the hope of one day returning to their ruined city.

“All your life in an instant turned into a pile of ruins, everything that was dear to you, everything that you tried to do, everything that you tried to achieve,” – said Mikhailenko. “Everything was canceled simply because some guy dropped that bomb after another bastard gave that order.”

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Susie Blanc and Vasilisa Stepanenko from Lviv, Ukraine, contributed.

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Follow the coverage of the AP war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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