Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine, lies more than 1,000km from the front lines of the country’s war with Russia in the east.
It feels like any other European city. Shops and other amenities remain open. But the sense of normality is only superficial. The effects of the war become clear in the city’s hospitals where the wounded from the west are treated, assisted by medical aid sent from Ireland.
Viktorija Volynets, the director of CF Gurtom UA, a Kyiv-based charitable foundation, says western Ukraine’s hospitals are on the verge of collapse, with most of the wounded military personnel sent west, away from the fighting to recover in the relative peace and safety of Lviv Oblast.
Western regions of Ukraine have experienced dramatic increases in population since the outbreak of the war 21 months ago with families fleeing the fighting in the east. This, coupled with the large numbers of wounded soldiers being treated, conservatively estimated at more than 100,000, is putting the Ukrainian health system under severe strain and in dire need of help.
Ireland has answered the call for aid. The HSE has supplied Gurtom with more than €1.5 million worth of medical equipment for western Ukraine’s most stretched health facilities. Items donated range from mattresses and crutches to incubators and ultrasound machines.
A host of other organisations, such as Tallaght-based NGO Misneach, have also been answering the call, helping Ukrainian soldiers who have suffered life-altering injuries.
Misneach has sent gym equipment, procured from across Ireland, to hospitals throughout Ukraine to help severely wounded soldiers. It sends over multiple truckloads of equipment every month to Gurtom’s warehouse on the Polish border before it is distributed across western Ukraine.
“Irish people are so welcoming and friendly,” said Volynets, who spent four months as a refugee from the war in Dundalk. “I noticed that from my time there. They have such big hearts and it has been amazing to see the support they have shown for the Ukrainian people.”
Located on the outskirts of Lviv, the small Pstomytivska Hospital spans three floors and was treating almost 20 wounded servicemen on the day The Irish Times visited last month. The men’s injuries ranged from amputations or shrapnel wounds to psychological trauma such as post-traumatic stress disorder. HSE-donated beds, mattresses and endoscope machines are being used in the hospital.
“It means so much to see that a small country like Ireland, that is so far away, cares so much about our people and their cause. To be willing to help in any way that they can is a true sign of the type of people that they are,” said hospital director Dr Ivan Myhaiylovych.
“It can be very difficult for soldiers who have led such active and disciplined lives to now be left stranded in a remote hospital. So, it is imperative for their rehabilitation that they can regain some sort of activity.”
That activity comes from Misneach’s Irish-donated gym equipment.
“The aid sent from Ireland really is helping to make such a real and big difference; I wish they could all see that,” he said.
At Lviv Regional Hospital, amputee soldiers are undergoing physical therapy and recovery sessions. Some men suffered catastrophic injuries, with many missing multiple limbs. Using crutches donated from Ireland, alongside other equipment such as walking aids and rehab stairs, these soldiers are learning to walk again.
The hospital’s head doctor, Maxsym Vasuliovych Prykupenko, introduces an 18-year old girl named Ruslana, a former patient of the hospital who lost her leg in the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
She works as a “motivational therapist” with other wounded soldiers, using her own recovery process as a tool to help guide other patients as they seek to regain their physical independence.
“We can’t thank Ireland enough for everything they are doing. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do what we are doing on such a scale,” said Dr Prykupenko after a visit of,the hospital’s newly constructed wounded veterans department.
“I want Irish people to know this, that we are aware of all of this help. And I want them to know that we are putting it to good use. It is not sold off or left sitting in storage; it is used to help these heroes get back up on their feet.”
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