Russian missile attack on Ukraine’s largest hospital complicates treatment of kids with cancer

KYIV, Ukraine — The National Cancer Institute in Kyiv was busier than usual after a Russian missile struck Ukraine’s largest children’s hospital this week, forcing the evacuation of dozens of its young patients battling cancer.

Russia’s heaviest bombardment of the Ukrainian capital in four months severely damaged Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital on Monday, terrorizing families and severely impacting their children already battling life-threatening diseases.

Now, some families face a dilemma of where to continue their children’s treatment.

Oksana Halak only learned about her 2-year-old son Dmytro’s diagnosis — acute lymphoblastic leukemia — at the beginning of June. She immediately decided to have him treated at Okhmatdyt, “because it is one of the best hospitals in Europe.”

She and Dmytro were in the hospital for his treatment when sirens blared across the city. They couldn’t run to the shelter as the little boy was on an IV. “It is vitally important not to interrupt these IVs,” Halak said.

After the first explosions, nurses helped move them to another room without windows, which was safer.

“We felt a powerful blast wave. We felt the room shaking and the lights went out,” she recalled. “We understood that it was nearby, but we didn’t think it was at Okhmatdyt.”

Shortly after that, they were evacuated to the National Cancer Institute, and now Dmytro is one of 31 patients who, amid a difficult fight with cancer, have to adapt to a new hospital. With their arrival, the number of children being treated for cancer there has doubled.

Dmytro and the other patients were offered evacuation to hospitals abroad, and Halak wants his further treatment to be in Germany.

“We understand that with our situation, we cannot receive the help we should be getting, and we are forced to apply for evacuation abroad,” she said.

Other hospitals in the city that took in children for treatment faced a similar overcrowding situation after the shutdown of Okhmatdyt, where hundreds of children were being treated at the time of the attack.

“The destroyed Okhmatdyt is the pain of the entire nation,” said the director general of the National Cancer Institute, Olena Yefimenko.

Almost immediately after the attack, messages began circulating on social media networks to raise money for the hospital’s restoration. Many parents whose children were treated there wrote messages of gratitude, saying their children survived due to the hospital’s care despite difficult diagnoses. In just three days, Ukrainians and private businesses raised more than $7.3 million through the national fundraising platform UNITED24.

Work to rebuild the hospital is already underway. Okhmatdyt doctors balance their duties treating their young evacuated patients while working to get the children’s hospital reopened. But even with resources and determination, that may take months.

Even so, Yuliia Vasylenko has already decided that her 11-year-old son, Denys, will remain in Kyiv for his cancer treatment.

The day of the attack the boy, diagnosed with multiple spinal cord tumors, was supposed to start chemotherapy. The strike delayed his treatment indefinitely, and Denys has to undergo additional examinations and tests, his mother said.

Denys was very scared during the strike, said his mother as she wheeled him around the National Cancer Institute in a wheelchair.

“The last days felt like an eternity,” she said. Only now are they slowly recovering from the stress.

“If we go somewhere, with our diagnosis, we would have to retake all the tests from the beginning,” she said, adding that this could take three to four months.

“And we don’t know if we have that time,” she said.


Associated Press journalist Volodymyr Yurchuk contributed to this report.


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