The last lingering sight Volodymyr had of his wife and their baby boy was through the window of a bus as it was about to be driven away in a convoy from Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital.
“That’s my son Mark, I’ll miss him very much, he’s not very well, and I worry about him. But I hope to see him again soon and I hope to see his mother de ella again soon, I’ll miss her too, ”said Volodymyr as he and his wife de el touched fingers through the glass. “We are not the only ones I know going through this, it’s a very sad situation for a lot of people.”
The line of a dozen yellow buses were taking young patients, suffering from cancer and other serious illnesses, from the children’s hospital in Kyiv – the largest in Ukraine – to Lviv, and, for many of them, onward to Germany.
It will be a journey by road and train which is likely to take up to five days with the very real possibility of disruptions due to the conflict. It would be an arduous trip for most adults, let alone for children – the youngest 13 months old – with fragile health.
But the doctors at Okhmatdyt have decided that the risk had to be taken because some of the patients simply would not survive the missile strikes and artillery rounds taking place regularly on the Ukrainian capital.
A missile was shot down in an area close to Okhmatdyt two days ago. Three children in the neighborhood who were injured could not be brought to the hospital because of the intensity of the strikes.
“We were administering chemotherapy to one of our patients, a little girl, when there was rocket fire directly over us and then there was shooting nearby,” said Olena Baidalenko, a sister in the oncology department.
“We thought we were going to get hit and we had no choice but to stop the treatment. We started again when the firing stopped. But we cannot carry on like this, so the move has to be made out of here.”
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The patient, four-year-old Milena, was one of those who was going to be evacuated from the hospital on Monday. She waited patiently at the reception alongside nine-year-old Antonina who was sitting beside her mother de ella Alena Pipash, one of the parents accompanying the children.
“Of course this is going to be a very long difficult trip and I am concerned about that,” said Ms Pipash, whose husband will remain in Kyiv to look after the couple’s other children. “But I can see why the doctors want to make the move. It is getting very dangerous here with the bombing.”
The missile strikes, which mainly take place at night, have meant that severely ill patients have had to be taken for shelter in the basement of the hospital. The main operating room is on the sixth floor, which causes logistical issues with some patients on oxygen support requiring ventilators.
One critical problem is the danger of infection for those with weakened immune systems.
“This is a very serious issue, we have patients here who do not have the sufficient level of immunity, and moving them in and out of the shelter makes them vulnerable to infections,” said Roman Zhezhera, a surgeon at the hospital who is among those organizing the evacuation.
Between 50 and 100 will remain out of the 300 patients at the hospital, because they may not survive the journey. Some young cancer patients were suffering from such low blood counts that, with supplies stretched, doctors have had to carry out blood transfusions from their parents.
“There will be those among the patients who simply will not have the capacity, who will not be strong enough, to make this trip; there are also parents who feel that such a trip would simply be too dangerous to make,” said Dr Zhezhera. “We do have problems with supplies of the medicine we need, but we will do our best to look after those who stay. All the necessary staff will be here.”
Those who were passed as fit to travel were put on the convoy which left the hospital in the afternoon, with relations and medical staff waving goodbye.
There was sudden panic from one of the buses which had set off with one of a set of twin daughters, Sofia, and the other missing. A nurse ran through the hospital gates carrying her sister, Diana.
“That is the advantage I have with just one baby going on the bus, there is no such confusion,” laughed Volodymyr. He then added quietly: “I hope all of them making this journey will return home safely back to their homes one day, we’ll pray for them.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.