Photo Essay

A Children’s Hospital in Wartime

Pediatric patients from all over Ukraine crowd into a single facility.

A child stands by the window of her room at a medical center in Lviv, Ukraine.
A child stands by the window of her room at a medical center in Lviv, Ukraine.
Sofia, who suffers from a cognitive impairment, stands by the window of her room at the Western Ukrainian Specialized Children’s Medical Centre in Lviv, Ukraine, on March 31. She had to leave Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, with her mother because of the war. Sandro Maddalena/Parallelozero for Foreign Policy
By , an Italian photojournalist.

The Western Ukrainian Specialized Children’s Medical Centre is the referral hospital for pediatric cancer patients and children with serious or rare diseases in western Ukraine. The children admitted here before the war came not only from Lviv, where the hospital is located, but also from towns and villages of Ukraine’s western Galicia region. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine halted or reduced care at some specialized medical centers in the cities most affected by the war, or it forced their conversion into first-aid centers. As a result, the pediatric hospital in Lviv became an obligatory destination for hundreds of children from all over Ukraine.

The hospital has had to adapt to the emergency situation and change its method of operation from a long-stay facility to a transit site for patients awaiting transfers. Patients are treated and put on a stable footing before being transported by bus to Poland or other European locations where they can continue their treatment.

In the first week after the war began, the specialized center in Lviv experienced an influx of patients comparable to about six months of activity under normal conditions. After about two weeks, the pediatric oncology ward was managing about 100 children with cancer when its estimated capacity was 30.

The Western Ukrainian Specialized Children’s Medical Centre is the referral hospital for pediatric cancer patients and children with serious or rare diseases in western Ukraine. The children admitted here before the war came not only from Lviv, where the hospital is located, but also from towns and villages of Ukraine’s western Galicia region. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine halted or reduced care at some specialized medical centers in the cities most affected by the war, or it forced their conversion into first-aid centers. As a result, the pediatric hospital in Lviv became an obligatory destination for hundreds of children from all over Ukraine.

Two mothers watch their children play in a communal area of the hospital in Lviv, Ukraine.
Two mothers watch their children play in a communal area of the hospital in Lviv, Ukraine.

Two mothers watch their children play in a communal area of a hospital in Lviv, Ukraine, on April 4.

The hospital has had to adapt to the emergency situation and change its method of operation from a long-stay facility to a transit site for patients awaiting transfers. Patients are treated and put on a stable footing before being transported by bus to Poland or other European locations where they can continue their treatment.

In the first week after the war began, the specialized center in Lviv experienced an influx of patients comparable to about six months of activity under normal conditions. After about two weeks, the pediatric oncology ward was managing about 100 children with cancer when its estimated capacity was 30.

A hospital window is covered with adhesive tape to prevent shards of glass from flying into the corridors in the event of a bombing at the children's medical center in Lviv, Ukraine.
A hospital window is covered with adhesive tape to prevent shards of glass from flying into the corridors in the event of a bombing at the children's medical center in Lviv, Ukraine.

A hospital window is covered with adhesive tape to prevent shards of glass from flying into the corridors in the event of a bombing at the childrens medical center in Lviv, Ukraine, on March 31.

Tatyana (left) walks the hall of the hospital in Lviv, Ukraine, with her daughter.
Tatyana (left) walks the hall of the hospital in Lviv, Ukraine, with her daughter.

Tatyana (left) walks the hall of a hospital in Lviv, Ukraine, with her daughter on April 4. Tatyana escaped from Bakhmut, Ukraine, with her son and two daughters. Both her daughters have been hospitalized due to serious health problems.

Tanya tries to calm her son Maxim at the hospital in Lviv on April 4. Maxim was previously being treated in Kyiv before they were forced to flee the city because of the war.
Tanya tries to calm her son Maxim at the hospital in Lviv on April 4. Maxim was previously being treated in Kyiv before they were forced to flee the city because of the war.

Tanya tries to calm her son Maxim at a hospital in Lviv, Ukraine, on April 4. Maxim was previously being treated in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, before they were forced to flee the city because of the war.

Andriy Synyuta, the director of the facility, told Foreign Policy that the situation was “terrible,” adding that even large international pediatric centers would not be able to cope with such a situation for more than a few days without significantly lowering their standards of health care.

A month into the war, with the hospital at an occupancy rate of about 180 beds, more than 500 children and their families had passed through the pediatric hospital since the war started. Many had nowhere else to go.

The hospital’s indoor swimming pool in Lviv is now used as a shelter during air-raid warnings.
The hospital’s indoor swimming pool in Lviv is now used as a shelter during air-raid warnings.

The hospital’s indoor swimming pool in Lviv is now used as a shelter during air-raid warnings.

Unfortunately, not all the children are able to travel to elsewhere in Europe to continue their treatment. Mark is not in a fit state to be transferred, but his mother, Sofia, decided to leave their town of Kramatorsk after days spent sleeping in a corridor. (The air-raid shelter was far away, and the house was right next to a strategic target.) Sofia had never planned to leave her hometown but found herself cornered: Her son started to feel ill on the first day of the war, and the doctor they had an appointment with on Feb. 25, the day after the invasion, disappeared.

A man accompanies his wife and child to the bus in Lviv on April 6 that will take them to Europe.
A man accompanies his wife and child to the bus in Lviv on April 6 that will take them to Europe.

A man accompanies his wife and child to the bus in Lviv on April 6 that will take them to Europe. The man must remain in Ukraine to make himself available for a possible military call-up.

Patients and their relatives leave Ukraine to be transported across borders by bus for treatment in hospitals in Poland and other European countries.
Patients and their relatives leave Ukraine to be transported across borders by bus for treatment in hospitals in Poland and other European countries.

Patients and their relatives leave Lviv, Ukraine, to be transported across the border by bus for treatment at hospitals in Poland and other European countries on April 6. Only women and children are allowed to travel because men ages 18 to 60 are not allowed to leave Ukraine.

Arina, a child with cancer, is also in the pediatric center in Lviv. On March 2, she was supposed to start chemotherapy at a hospital in Kharkiv, but it wasn’t possible because of the bombing. So Ala, her mother, brought her here, telling Foreign Policy that soldiers forbade her husband from joining them. “Now our family is divided,” Ala said, “and I don’t know when we will see each other again.”

Sandro Maddalena is an Italian photojournalist who has been documenting the developments of the Ukrainian crisis since February 2014. He is based in Naples, and his work is represented by the Parallelozero agency.

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