«Wounds Were Infested With Larvae»: Why Doctors Who Worked in Occupied Donetsk Could Not Live in Mariupol

When the Russians promised medics from occupied Donetsk jobs and apartments in Mariupol, they forgot to say that they would have to work with people who were torn to pieces by Russian shells.

Photo: Reuters

Iryna is a 38-year-old Donetsk resident. When the occupation of the eastern regions of Ukraine took place in 2014, she left for a year — lived first in Kyiv, then in Dnipro. However, she decided to return — the woman thought that it would be better and more comfortable at home. An obstetrician-gynecologist by education, Iryna currently works in one of the hospitals in occupied Donetsk — she got a job there back in October 2015. However, in the summer of 2022, she and several other doctors were invited to go to work in the «liberated territories» — in Mariupol, in which already at that time «were almost cholera, starvation… and festering wounds from shells».

Iryna repeatedly asks «Vchasno» journalists to emphasize that she «does not support Russia, but support peace — so people don’t die, and don’t suffer.» However, when we ask her who is to blame for all the troubles, she changes the subject and asks to start the interview.

What was promised to the doctors from Donetsk for work in occupied Mariupol

Preparation of Donetsk medics for work in the ruined cities where corpses literally were buried under rubbish began at the end of 2021, before the full-scale Russian invasion. At that time doctors in state clinics (surgeons, pediatricians, obstetricians, anesthesiologists, traumatologists, and paramedics) were sent to «courses». This had never happened before, but at that time no one explained anything. According to Iryna, everyone had a day of theory, and «practical» training — it lasted for several days in December. After that, the work did not change in any way — even when Russia began its offensive against Ukraine.

«The number of patients has increased. People came with injuries, there were amputations. But patients were not brought to my department (gynecology) en masse. There were few women, only those who came alone and registered. It happened that I was called to other departments to assist surgeons, but rarely. I monitored what was happening, it was really hard to look at these photos, at the wounded people. And I saw dead people in the canals… It shouldn’t be so — that’s what I thought at the time,» Iryna recalls.

Already at the beginning of June, according to the doctor, the hospital received an order to send medics to the occupied territory — they took pediatricians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and obstetricians — they were supposed to open a Mariupol hospital to receive patients there. However, they did not say anything about the condition of the medical institution — although at that time the hospital had already been gutted by Russian shells for several months. In fact, the state and medical institutions became one of the first targets of the occupiers — even when it was known that civilians and children were hiding there from the missiles.

Photo by Merkushev, a journalist of the Russian propaganda media

Have doctors been sent to treat the occupiers and wounded residents of Mariupol before? Yes. The hospital where Iryna works was one of the first to receive wounded Russians. The doctors of Donetsk also actively supported the Russian army and from the very beginning of the invasion traveled with the field hospitals to the devastated territories — to «lick the wounds» of the occupiers who were responsible for airstrikes on the people of Mariupol.

«I was not offered to go to Mariupol before. I shouldn’t have been there. And when Mariupol was already „taken“, they said that hospitals and school medical offices would open there — then they offered to go there for temporary work. What conditions? My workplace and salary remain the same in Donetsk, I receive a salary for work in Mariupol, plus bonuses for work in front-line areas. Well, the conditions were good. And they said that all the doctors will be settled in apartments, and there will be transport to the place of work,» Iryna says.

According to the woman, she agreed, because could not sit at home when she was needed there — the Russians «from above» said that there were many women with children, pregnant women, and young mothers left in Mariupol — allegedly it was safer in the city than in Ukraine. Therefore, at the end of June, Iryna went to «liberated Mariupol» as part of a group of 8 doctors of various specialties. And she came to the ruins from a horror movie.

The city of the fever period: the reality that the Russian occupiers did not tell

Shocked Iryna has already rolled into town — only the ruins remained in Mariupol, which the woman did not expect. According to her, she knew about broken windows, cracks in the walls, dirt, and unsanitary conditions in the city due to «heavy shelling». However, the state of the city was frightening, because she saw only burnt houses, scorched earth, and dirty people. It was during that period that a serious «hygiene famine» began in the city — there was no water — it was only part of the humanitarian aid. People washed and drank in rainwater, which was collected in puddles. This was significantly different from what was promised to all doctors.

«We worked in a hospital that didn’t have half a wing. Bomb. There were no windows — they flew away. There are graves in the yard. I came with a set of tools, a bottle of alcohol, my things — and I didn’t know what to do, and how people live,» the doctor admits.

Already after the interview, she added that there was no equipment in the hospital — it was, as the occupiers said, «taken away by the Nazis so that people would die without help.» Although, in fact, since the occupation of Mariupol, echelons with medical equipment, toilets and local belongings calmly drove to the Russian hinterlands and hospitals in the previously occupied territories.

Photo: Russian media Kommersant

«My hands were shaking — I didn’t expect this: larvae were growing in the wounds from the heat»

«My hands were shaking the first days. A lot of women came, but not for my specialization — they came for amputation surgery, for bandages. Many wounded (both women and men) simply came, but we could not help them in any way — for example, one had a fragment stuck between his ribs. There were no tools to get it out, no X-rays to look at, nothing at all. We worked only with the equipment that we brought. I temporarily began to bandage wounds and take care of severed limbs, but this was also difficult because the „wards“ were made in corridors or rooms without windows, it was very dirty — unsanitary. The limbs of many were festering, it was hot — and the wounds were Infested with larvae,» the woman says.

«People were under the rubble for a very long time, gangrene started in many from crushing and injuries, and doctors perform five or six amputations a day. Of course, there are no X-rays or MRIs here, doctors operate based solely on their experience,» said Russian doctor Inna Akatiyeva in May 2022.

«Doctors sleep right there, in the hospital, in sleeping bags, they set up a field kitchen in the yard, and they cook the food right there. While in the hospital, people lie without bedclothes, directly on mattresses, and eat once a day. «Many are exhausted and barely recover from the shock,» said «volunteer» medics from the Russian Federation.

The first gynecological patients in Mariupol were pregnant women. They came with complaints of stomach pain. One of them had a «frozen» pregnancy — the reason is allegedly stress. An autopsy was performed on her. Other women became mothers prematurely — because of what they went through, the level of stress increased, and premature births began. There were women who gave birth at 8 months of pregnancy. The children were saved — in particular, because pregnant women were sent to Donetsk hospitals with the necessary equipment (in particular, stolen from the newly occupied cities). In addition, there was a problem with a sufficient amount of medicine and even with water.

«I bandaged babies and small children — for example, the remains of a 6-year-old girl’s hand»

As for the accommodation of the medics, they really lived in the apartments that survived the bombings. Apparently, the apartments belonged to already dead people or those who decided to leave the occupation.

«It was very difficult. There was no water, we charged our phones at work — there were generators and some equipment worked on them. The shower was outside, in the yard — only for the staff. We were fed by volunteers at work — there was a „field kitchen“, water was brought in tanks. Well, it was difficult. I was able to stay there for three months — I returned to Donetsk in September, and never returned to Mariupol again.»

From what she experienced, the woman cannot forget how babies and small children had to be bandaged — a 6−7-year-old girl did not have an arm — she was amputated because part of it was cut off during the shelling.

«As a doctor, it was difficult for me to see pregnant girls who were in a terrible condition. They had no water, and everything was very unhygienic, and this affects the child — because the mother must be healthy, clean, and safe for the child to be born healthy. Well, that wasn’t there,» Iryna concludes.

After her «trip to hell», doctors from the same hospital went and continue to go to the occupied territories. According to Iryna, no one stays there permanently — only the surgeon with whom she went to Mariupol in June lasted the longest. He returned at the beginning of winter.

«I think that these people in Mariupol now just need peace. What I saw there was horror, people should not have to experience this. I know that some mothers who came to me can no longer give birth — because of the unsanitary conditions, lack of medical assistance, insufficient help (from the occupation authorities) — all this had very bad consequences,» Iryna says.

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