Russian War Crimes Force Ukrainian Maternity Wards Underground

As the first Russian troops breached Ukraine’s borders at the end of February, over one million Ukrainians fled the regions most affected by the invasion. But what of those who could not leave under such short notice? For pregnant mothers close to their due dates, packing up and departing from not only the safety their homes but also close and reliable medical assistance was a dubious proposition. Traveling in the late stages of a pregnancy can be dangerous for both mother and child, but how safe could their hospitals be during a war?

Russia has resorted to attacking civilians in public spaces, an internationally illegal war crime, in hope of breaking Ukraine’s lives and spirit. President Putin has justified the Russian invasion as an effort to rebuild his nation’s previously-held territory, but his recurring and violent attacks against the innocent civilians merely existing within Ukraine’s borders clearly show his lack of compassion or care for the country of Ukraine. According to the B.B.C., U.N. monitors claimed that 364 civilian deaths had been confirmed in Ukraine since the invasion began on February 24th. This number has been rising daily and will only continue to grow as conflict continues.

Hospitals have been a target of these attacks since the beginning of the invasion. Russian soldiers have directed explosive and weapons assaults at hospitals in and around the capital city of Kyiv, causing chaos for patients as well as for the brave staff still working under this duress.

Beyond the Russians’ physical abuse against hospitals, the invasion has also targeted the infrastructure necessary for hospitals and other public facilities to function, such as electricity, water, and temperature control. Maternity wards have had to adjust in order to support new mothers in need of medical care. Each night, maternity ward staff assist patients as they all move into the basement for safety from Russian bombing. Labouring mothers are laid on cots along the cement floors with nurses standing by for support. While patients are allowed to stay above ground where resources are more easily accessible throughout the day, at night, Russian shell attacks commence and staff are alerted to move to the basement.

The Washington Post conducted interviews with maternity nurses and patients at the Isida clinic in western Kyiv. As of March 2nd, the clinic had successfully delivered 22 newborns since the beginning of the invasion, but this was not without heightened anxieties. One mother, Helena Bonya, reported high stress levels due to the circumstances. Before even arriving at the hospital, she and her husband were forced to pack their belongings to bring with them, as well as the family dog, out of fear that it would be lost during their stay at the hospital.

Bonya told the reporter that she was deeply afraid, not only for her and her family’s lives during the delivery, but also for what comes after. Her husband is required to stay within Ukraine because of the country-wide mobilization from healthy, of-age, male citizens, but with a newborn in the house, staying close to the combat would be difficult. “We don’t have a plan afterward and we don’t know where we might go,” she said.

New mothers throughout Ukraine have been placed in the same position.

With the Russian government committing such aggressive and damaging war crimes, countries within Europe and around the world must consider sending heightened military aid. Although sanctions against Russian officials and enterprises constitute a non-combative attack against Russia, these techniques leave the innocent residents of Ukraine in danger – not only in their homes, but in the places meant to provide assistance to those in need. Until Russia’s troops and devastating war tactics are both defeated, at-risk citizens, like the mothers within the underground maternity wards, will continue to live each day in fear.