Ukraine: MSF evacuates 150 hospital patients due to attacks in Kherson region

Hospitals continue to be affected by missile attacks and shelling, in disregard of international humanitarian law.

White cloth with MSF logo hangs inside the MSF medical evacuation train in Ukraine.

Ukraine 2023 © Verity Kowal/MSF

KYIV, Ukraine, October 30, 2023—Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) evacuated 150 patients from a hospital affected by shelling in the Kherson region of southern Ukraine from October 20 to 22, using ambulances and a medical evacuation train, the organization said today. 

The hospital is run by Kherson's regional health authorities, who asked MSF to evacuate patients to safer areas of central and western Ukraine. MSF previously evacuated 267 patients from the same hospital in November 2022.

"Due to increased shelling in Kherson over the past few weeks, the department of health care in Kherson region requested our support again to urgently evacuate 150 high-needs civilian patients,” said Dr. Albina Zharkova, MSF project coordinator. “The morning of the evacuation, there was heavy shelling and we had to wait in the bunkers before we could proceed with transferring patients from the hospital to the train. Fortunately, we managed to safely get all the patients to other health facilities where they can continue to receive the care they need.”

The hospital has been experiencing disruptions to power supplies as a result of repeated shelling, forcing it to function at times without electricity. Many of the patients were immobile due to their age and health conditions, making them extremely vulnerable, as they could not be relocated to bunkers when attacks on the hospital occurred. 

“The patients have various conditions—many have chronic diseases, others had severe disabilities, some are bedridden,” Dr. Zharkova said. “We have also seen an increase in the number of psychiatric conditions due to the stressors of living in an area under frequent fighting.” 

36 hours aboard MSF's medical train in Ukraine

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MSF's medical train made two trips to complete the evacuation of the patients. While these patients are now in safer areas, many are now very far from family and loved ones. No one knows if or when they will be able to return to the place they call home.

“It is very distressing for patients,” Dr. Zharkova said. “But sadly, there has been no choice but to relocate them, as we see that hospitals in Ukraine—especially those located close to the front lines, such as Kherson, Donetsk, and Kharkiv regions—are being targeted with shelling quite frequently.” 

Since the full-scale escalation of the war in February 2022, the local administration has recorded the destruction of 26 health care facilities in the areas of Kherson region that have been retaken by Ukraine. A further 105 medical facilities have been damaged. In total, 80 percent of all health care facilities in the region—including hospitals, medical clinics, and paramedic and midwifery centers—are either completely destroyed or partially damaged.

However, the actual number of health facilities and care institutions destroyed in Kherson is likely to be even higher, as the lack of access to areas still occupied by Russian forces means that the full situation of health care facilities there remains unclear.

MSF strongly condemns the attacks on hospitals and other medical infrastructure in Ukraine and is once again calling for the protection of health facilities amid this war. 

“Time and time again, MSF has denounced the attacks on hospitals in Ukraine and has called for the protection of health facilities, health care workers, and patients,” said Vincenzo Porpiglia, MSF head of mission in Ukraine. “Yet missile attacks and shelling of hospitals continue to occur, with total disregard of international humanitarian law.” 

Established in March 2022 in collaboration with Ukrainian Railways, MSF's medical evacuation train transports patients away from overwhelmed hospitals in Ukraine’s east and south to other hospitals with more capacity farther from the front lines.