Inside a Kramatorsk hospital saving the lives of Ukraine’s war wounded


As the young soldier lies motionless in the machine, a group of doctors huddle over a computer in an adjoining room.

The images from the CT scanner show shrapnel lodged deep in the left-hand side of the man’s brain. “He needs urgent surgery,” 37-year-old neurosurgeon Oleg Serkiz says.

As one patient is prepared for the operating table, paramedics in military fatigues deliver another soldier on a stretcher, and then another – a constant stream of Ukraine’s fittest bodies now torn by metal and punctured by bullets.

These men were rushed from the frontline to a specialist trauma hospital in the city of Kramatorsk on Wednesday afternoon after being wounded in the bloody battle for the eastern town of Bakhmut. Only hours earlier, they were the adrenaline-pumped vanguard of the Ukrainian army’s attempt to take on the Russian troops – among them mercenaries that hold much of the area. Now they wait, cold and pale, for their turn on the operating table.

Chief surgeon Dr. Vitaly Malanchuk is often the first to assess the men’s injuries.

“We’re dealing with shrapnel wounds and gunshot wounds,” he says. “People can have severed limbs, with large facial defects… Plus there’s polytrauma, where different organs are involved.”

The surgical team has treated around 100 patients a day over the past few weeks, and operated on around half of them. It’s intense work, performed under the threat of missile attacks from Russian-held territory just 30 kilometres away. The pace of arrivals mean there’s no time to shelter when air raid warnings sound here. Tape on the windows appears the only attempt to mitigate damage from any blast.

Crucial to the surgeons’ work is a single CT scanner that shows surgeons the damage to a patient’s brain and spinal cord. It would usually run 15 or 20 scans per day. Now, it processes 70 or 80. There is a “screaming need” for a replacement, Dr. Malanchuk says. They have located a used scanner for sale in the west of Ukraine that costs about 120,000 US dollars. The hospital’s administrators here have raised about $60,000 but are appealing for help with the rest.

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