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Chaos and horror in a hospital in Kiev as the city is hit by the heaviest bombardment in months

Chaos and horror in a hospital in Kiev as the city is hit by the heaviest bombardment in months

Kyiv, Ukraine — The air was crystal clear as Oksana Femeniuk drove her daughter to Ukraine’s largest children’s hospital for routine dialysis.

At around 10 a.m., the air raid sirens blared. Sixteen-year-old Solomiia underwent the treatment, which required her to sit still for up to five hours without being disturbed. Her mother had to flee to the hospital basement without her.

According to Ukraine’s security service, the United Nations and open-source researchers, a Russian Kh-101 cruise missile was heading toward them at 700-800 kilometers (435-497 miles) per hour. Through painstaking trial and error, Russia has adapted the weapon over the past year to defeat Ukrainian air defenses by flying at low altitude and hugging the terrain, military analysts said.

Minutes later, the world went black. Neither the patient nor her mother could remember the moment the rocket hit. But they do remember the chaos that ensued when she regained consciousness: Femeniuk thought she would suffocate from the fumes. Solomiia woke up to find the ceiling crumpled over her tiny body.

In an operating room next door, pediatric surgeon Oleh Holubchenko was preparing to operate on a baby with a congenital facial deformity. Covered in shrapnel, he realized the explosion had catapulted him to the other side of the operating room.

The toll of the heaviest Russian bombing of Kiev in nearly four months – one of the deadliest of the war – shows the devastating human cost of improved Russian targeting tactics.

The hospital’s director general, Volodymyr Zhovnir, stood at the scene of the explosion, dwarfed by the towering building with its windows shattered. No children were killed, thank God, he said, but they did lose a dear colleague, Dr. Svitlana Lukianchuk.

Lukianchuk rushed the children and parents from the toxicology building, which would later be destroyed, to the bomb shelter. She went back to clear more rooms. And then, the explosion, Femeniuk recalls.

Solomiia was born with chronic renal failure, making hemodialysis a permanent part of her life.

After the large-scale invasion, Femeniuk left her three children and husband in a small village near Rivne, in western Ukraine, and moved to the capital so the girl could get the treatment she needed.

Leaving her daughter behind during the airstrike was a difficult decision. But the 34-year-old mother had to project strength, she said. Her daughter was brave in staying, knowing she couldn’t interrupt her treatment. Femeniuk couldn’t tell her daughter that she was actually terrified.

As the air raid sirens blared, the girl watched videos on her phone. Considering how long dialysis can take, she quickly becomes bored.

She woke up and saw the ceiling before her eyes, and the chief physician was attending to her, covered in blood and on her knees.

The girl’s first impulse was to raise her hands to the ceiling to prevent tons of concrete and rubble from crushing her tiny body. She was trapped with a few other patients and hospital staff, and they were pulled safely from the rubble.

“The first thing I thought about was my mother, whether she is alive or not. Then I thought, ‘Am I alive or not?'” she said, her fingers painted with small flowers, wiggling as she spoke. Mother and daughter recounted their experience at the Kiev City Children’s Clinical Hospital, where Solomiia was transferred.

The exit to the shelter was blocked and the fire raging outside quickly entered the small space. Femeniuk called her husband and told him she didn’t know if she would survive and she didn’t know if Solomiia was still alive.

Eventually, the people seeking refuge managed to get out and to their horror, they realized that the building they had been in, where some of their children had been, had been hit. Femeniuk began frantically picking up pieces of rubble, calling out her daughter’s name. Then she saw the nurse who had helped them, covered in blood.

Solomiia had been evacuated after the explosion, the nurse said. She was safe.

Meanwhile, in the operating room, it took Holubchenko fifteen minutes to realize he was covered in shrapnel. The doctor was too busy evacuating patients, starting with the 5-month-old baby who was eventually operated on elsewhere.

“My colleagues and I who were in the operating room received shrapnel wounds to the body, the face, the back, the arms and legs,” he said. “There are glass windows in the operating room, the doors. Everything was blown off, everything was destroyed.”

In the hospital ward, he looked out through a broken window at the street.

“There used to be a wall here,” he said.

When he went outside and realized that the toxicology building had collapsed, he thought back to the times he had been there consulting with patients and doing checkups. Now half the building had collapsed.

But he didn’t dwell on it for long and joined a line of volunteers, health workers and emergency services who were clearing the rubble piece by piece.

“Everyone wanted to do something,” he said.

The attack hit seven of the city’s ten districts. The attack on the Okhmatdyt children’s hospital, which was treating 627 children at the time, angered Ukrainian officials and the international community. Two adults were killed, including a female doctor, and 50 were wounded.

Russia denied responsibility for the hospital attack and insisted it did not attack civilian targets in Ukraine, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, including AP reporting. Moscow insisted it was a Ukrainian air defense missile that hit the hospital.

Artem Starosiek, the founder of the Ukrainian group Molfar, which analyzes events based on open-source evidence, said there were overwhelming signs of Russian culpability. The missile used in the attack has the characteristics of the Kh-101, he said, noting the shape of the body, tail and location of the wings, he said.

The fact that it was a bright blue day also played a role, he said. Launching the modified missile on a sunny day is optimal for the weapon’s optoelectronic system to correctly recognize the target, he said.

“The force of the warhead explosion is important; a surface-to-air missile could not have caused such consequences,” he said.

Associated Press journalist Volodymyr Yurchuk contributed.