This article was originally published on March 4, 2022, and is being regularly updated.
On February 24, Russia launched a large-scale military operation in Ukraine that rapidly escalated into a war across most of the country. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is stepping up its medical humanitarian response to the deepening humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and in neighboring countries, where more than 8 million refugees have fled.
MSF has a longstanding presence in Ukraine, including in parts of the eastern region that have been affected by armed conflict since 2014. A large part of our work in Ukraine from 2014 to 2021 was responding to the needs of patients with HIV, tuberculosis, or other chronic illnesses. Due to the current war, we have halted normal activities and have started emergency activities in Ukraine. We currently have teams in Kyiv, Lviv, Vinnytsia, Zhytomir, Dnipro, Kharkiv, Odessa, Mykolaiv, Poltava, Bila Tserkva, Uzhhorod and Ivano-Frankivsk. We also have teams in Poland, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia, Russia, and Belarus. MSF is an independent and impartial organization committed to providing medical humanitarian assistance to people affected by the war no matter who they are or where they are.
MSF staff in Ukraine are delivering urgent medical supplies, training health workers on managing mass casualty incidents, running mobile clinics, and organizing medical evacuations of hospitalized patients from the east to the west of the country.
Medical evacuations by train
Working with Ukrainian Railways, we outfitted a two-car medical train to refer hospitalized patients from the war-torn east of the country to Ukrainian medical facilities in the west. On April 1, nine people—including children—in serious but stable condition were transferred from a hospital in Zaporizhzhia, in southeastern Ukraine, to major referral hospitals in Lviv. Further medical referrals are now underway by train, bringing patients from Kramatorsk and other areas. On April 8, MSF responded to reports of the bombing of a train station in Kramatorsk, which imperils future train evacuation efforts.
Our teams are providing basic health care to people affected by the war. In Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine, our mobile clinic team has carried out more than 800 medical consultations in subway stations where residents are taking shelter from Russian bombing. Another team has started providing care to displaced people along the border with Hungary, in southwestern Ukraine. The needs include mental health care and continuity of care for patients who were on treatment for medical conditions before they were displaced.
Medical and humanitarian supplies
On March 6, MSF's first shipment of emergency medical supplies was delivered to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health in Kyiv, and subsequent shipments have arrived since then. We supply surgical kits, trauma kits, and other basic necessities, including for hospitals in areas farther east where they are especially needed. So far the most needed supplies are surgical, trauma, emergency room (ER), and intensive care unit (ICU) equipment and drugs. But other key medical items are also urgently needed as the conflict continues, including insulin for diabetes patients and medicines for patients with chronic diseases such as asthma, tuberculosis, hypertension, or HIV. Transportation of some of these essential supplies will require the added complexity of a cold chain. We are exploring more ways to safely move medical supplies within the country.
Displaced people are now sheltering in Lviv and other towns in western Ukraine. Many have have left their homes with only what they could carry. Local volunteers and civil society organizations are working hard to help them, but conditions are harsh, with available accommodations already past capacity. We have donated a large supply of cold weather items including sleeping bags, warm clothes, and tents to civil society organizations supporting displaced people.