АвторAuthor: Olha Verkalets | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk
27 May 2022
Taras Turelyk, a 29-year-old surgeon from Ivano-Frankivsk, had been working at the Popasna General Hospital, in the Luhansk region since 2019. He was there when the full-scale Russian invasion began and continued working until the hospital was completely destroyed by Russian soldiers.
The morning of the 24th February. A friend from Kyiv called me and said that there was an airstrike in the capital. The war began. At the time there was no change in Popasna. Before the 24th there had been some shootings on the outskirts of the town, but it was something we were used to. It was very loud on the 22nd. But the actual attack on the town started on the 2nd of March. That was when we started having the first victims.
Before the 2nd of March we worked at the hospital by the schedule. You worked your shift and went home. On the 2nd I went home to my family. Together with my wife and our 9-year-old child we lived in an apartment in the town. In the evening we could hear the massive shelling. In the morning we went down to a shelter, because it was impossible to sit still. I felt as if they would hit my house at any moment.
On the 3rd of March our hospital was hit for the first time. The roof was broken. Then there were several hits on the territory of the hospital. It’s a 3-storey building. The first floor is a basement with the lab, and it got hit by a projectile on the 4th of March. The office of the head of the laboratory was completely destroyed. On the second floor there were an intensive care and neurology units. The explosions broke the windows and doors there. After that the hospital couldn’t function properly.
By that time the hospital administration had already left, only acting director of the hospital remained. He took over as a head of the hospital, although he worked from home. In the morning of the 3rd of March he called the surgeons to go back to work, because we received the first wounded. In the afternoon my wife and I, our child and my colleague, an anesthesiologist, came to the hospital and never went home again. The buses stopped running. There was no way to commute. From the 2nd to 5th of March our staff was constantly at work, because no one else could arrive. My wife worked as an ophthalmologist at the clinic in Popasna and as an emergency doctor. During those 4 days she was by my side, helping anyone she could.
A few days before the shelling, we lowered all the surgery beds from the third floor into a long corridor on the first. The patients who could walk, went down, those who couldn’t stayed on the top floor for a while. There was neither electricity, nor water, the elevators didn’t work. We couldn’t move the patients down. We carried them later. All departments worked only on the ground floor, in the basement. It couldn’t even function as a shelter. But some patients stayed there even after discharge, hiding.
Before we arrived, a military brigade of medics provided assistance to civilians at the hospital. Later all of us operated in an improvised OR. There were mostly shrapnel injuries and burns. People with heart conditions were immediately transported from Popasna to other cities: Bakhmut and Lysychansk. We provided assistance only to the injured, it was simply not possible to treat others, given the state the hospital was in.
In the first days of shelling, an ambulance brought many wounded. We received around 7 injured people a day. The hospital had one diesel generator and two electric ones in each operating room. It gave us some kind of light during surgeries. We operated during the daytime and dressed the wounds at night. With the resources we had there was only so much we could do: remove the shrapnel, stop the bleeding. Fortunately, more serious patients were not brought to us. The beginning of March was cold. But we didn’t feel it that much and worked on adrenalin, as there was little quiet time. We had to wear warm jackets all the time, it wasn’t easy. But after the 4th, the hospital stopped working, so we only provided assistance to those who were left. The wounded were driven to Lysychansk and Bakhmut.
Patients who died were taken to the morgue on stretchers. Maybe they are still there. There was no pathologist, so nobody carried out autopsies, and nobody was buried.
There was a little food and drinking water left, although most grocery shops closed immediately, only 2 supermarkets went on working. People brought food from home, the military shared their supplies. We had enough. There was enough medicine too, and unfortunately, a lot of it remained there.
Evacuation from Popasna
First time we left Popasna was on the 5th of March, as the hospital had been completely destroyed. We dressed the last wounds and arranged the evacuation of the critically ill patients to other cities. We couldn’t provide them with more assistance, nor could we stay at home and wait for the house to be destroyed. There was neither electricity, nor water, although there was gas. In a few days we would lose the mobile network too, because there was nowhere to charge our phones. I have relatives in Bakhmut, so we decided to drive there. We thought about going back to Popasna in a couple of days, but we couldn’t. Every morning we were calling the doctors, who stayed behind. They told us there was shelling and we shouldn’t return. In a week we risked it, though. On Saturday, the 12th March, having left our kid and 2 cats with the relatives, my wife and I went back to Popasna. We stayed there for 2 days, and my wife worked a little as an emergency doctor. These two days were “fun”. There were a lot of strikes, both our house and our car were damaged. I wanted to go back to the hospital, but that district was already occupied by the orks. On the 14th we left the town for the last time. We spent one more week in Bakhmut. It was rather peaceful there, although it’s just a 30 minute drive from Popasna. We wanted to get a job in the local hospital, but the administration couldn’t find a procedure to hire us. Officially we were still working in Popasna. We could be fired, nor were we paid. On paper, the hospital was still working.
Few days later two missiles hit Pokrovsk and Kostiantynivka. It was the only good way to Dnipro. So we decided to go to my hometown, Ivano-Frankivsk.
I have no idea what condition the hospital in Popasna is now. I saw earlier that the ORs were totally burnt down. The doctors I knew were all able to get out, some of them work in Pavlohrad, the others in Dnipro. I managed to get a part-time job in Tlumachi, in Ivano-Frankivsk region, and my wife is in Mykulychyna.
When I left Popasna, that place could no longer be called a town. There was no undamaged building left. Since the 2nd of March they haven’t stopped the shelling. All roads are destroyed by “Hrad” and “Smerch” rocket launchers. The private sector burned down, my friends told me. In some places, there’s only the ground left.
(The interview was recorded on April 29)
Чому важливо поширити цю історію?
Якщо українці не розповідатимуть свій погляд на війну в Україні, світ поступово забуватиме про нас. Натомість цим обов’язково скористаються росіяни. Тому не даймо їм жодного шансу.
Why is it important to share this story?
If Ukrainians do not share their views on the war in Ukraine, the world will gradually forget about us. Instead, the Russians will definitely take advantage of this. So let's not give them a chance.
АвторAuthor: Olha Verkalets | Translation: Hanna Dzhyhaliuk