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‘Why Do They Attack Children?’
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‘Why Do They Attack Children?’

Okhmatdyt hospital will need months to rebuild from a devastating Russian attack.

The complex of buildings of Ohmatdyt Children's Hospital were severely damaged during a Russian missile strike on July 8, 2024, in Kyiv. (Photo by Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

KYIV—Nikita, 19, had just started his workday in a downtown Kyiv garage when he was thrown to the ground by an explosion. “I thought we were dead. Everything was shaking around us. Then we realized the impact hit Okhmatdyt right next door.”

Okhmatdyt, the country’s largest children’s hospital, was targeted Monday as Russian forces launched a new wave of attacks across Ukraine. Lacking sufficient air defense, the Ukrainian army intercepted only 30 out of 38 missiles fired. A Kh-101 cruise missile struck the hospital, according to preliminary data obtained by Ukraine’s State Security Service (SBU). Other locations in the capital were also hit by missiles.

None of the children at the hospital were killed, but two people—including a doctor—were reported dead. As of July 10, 33 people across Kyiv were reported dead and more than 200 injured in what Kyiv Mayor Vitalii Klitschko described as the deadliest attack on the capital since December 29.

“We were the first to arrive,” Nikita explained. “There was smoke everywhere. We went inside the hospital and started helping the injured. I then saw a drone flying and exploding in a building a bit further away.”

Nikita, one of the first rescuers on site. (Photo by Joseph Roche)

Nikita and the first volunteers were soon joined by hundreds of firefighters and volunteers bringing water, food, medicine, and first aid supplies. Despite the risk of a double-tap attack—where a second strike targets those rescuing victims of the initial attack—they all rushed to the impact site, where firefighters began using crowbars and saws to free victims from the rubble.

Arriving an hour after the attack, I managed to make my way through. One of the hospital wings, a multi-story building with windows blown out by the explosion, stood miraculously intact in the summer heat. In contrast, one of the historic wings of the hospital was completely destroyed. The collapsed roof cascaded into the central courtyard, with only a few walls still standing. Further on the ground, I saw a woman in her 50s lying unconscious on a stretcher. A rescuer, kneeling in the shade, tried to administer first aid. A tourniquet revealed a leg nearly torn off. “Help,” the rescuer shouted, “we need more help.”

Nurses, covered in dust, sweat, and blood, carried frightened children in their arms outside the area hit by Russian forces. Volunteers escorted other patients, emaciated by cancer, to various hospitals in the city.

In front of the hospital garden, a doctor, who declined to give me her name, cried on the phone. Her swollen face was wrapped in a blood-soaked bandage, and she struggled to find words. “These are children; why do they attack children?”

Nikita continued his comings and goings, his face covered in a mixture of sweat and soot. “I saw a girl with both legs torn off,” Nikita said. “She was taken away by rescuers. The firefighters said she would live.” Tears in his eyes, he wiped his face. “Today is my birthday,” he added before putting on a pair of gloves. “I was planning to celebrate with my friends tonight.”

Amid the ambulance sirens, the search continued. Outside a security perimeter, families clung to each other, waiting for news of their loved ones. In the grass, sheltered by a small wall, firefighters lay down to rest. 

“Over 600 patients are treated in this hospital,” explained Volodymir Zhovnir, the pediatric center’s director. “They are mostly children, and many urgently need kidney transplants.” He told me that more than 40 children were injured by shrapnel. “One of our doctors was killed too,” he said. 

That morning, Svitlana Lukyanchuk, 30, a kidney doctor, was helping children, many hooked up to dialysis machines, to the shelter. Earlier, ballistic missiles had been detected heading towards Kyiv, and the capital had woken up to the sound of alarm sirens.

“She went back to ensure all the rooms were empty,” said Zhovnir. “Then the missile struck the hospital, and she was killed.”

Already under pressure due to multiple power outages caused by Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, Zhovnir now has to manage a half-destroyed hospital. “A large part of our equipment was destroyed. We no longer have a dialysis unit, water supply, or an oxygen center. Only the cardiology center was spared.”

A child from the hospital isescorted out of the perimeter. (Photo by Joseph Roche)

Although a crowdfunding campaign organized by United24 raised more than 250 million hryvnias (approximately $6.75 million) in less than 24 hours for the hospital’s reconstruction, rebuilding—and returning to normal operations—will take months. “This will impact patients across the country,” lamented Zhovnir. “Okhmatdyt was one of the country’s most advanced hospitals and the only one with the equipment to detect certain types of cancer.”

As Monday drew to a close, the area around the hospital remained crowded, and lines of hundreds of volunteers continued to form. Stocks of water were piled up in the surrounding flower beds. “This is the first time I’ve seen such a cruel attack on Kyiv,” sobbed Anna, a 24-year-old lawyer. “I was teaching children at the hospital about image rights. I came to organize a lecture when the hospital was hit. I want to help, but there are so many people that I feel useless. Everyone is so shocked that we all want to contribute.”

Natalia, 64, who lives right in front of the hospital, also tried to do what she could and hurriedly carried water bottles to two firefighters sitting on her apartment steps. Their eyes vacant, they smoked cigarettes. “Here, boys,” she said, her voice hoarse, “you need to drink water in this heat. It’s like Egypt.” Broken glass shards glittered in the sunlight on the ground. Leaning against a wall, Natalia wiped the sweat from her forehead and splashed water on her face. “Where are the Patriots [air defense system]?” she finally shouted. “Why don’t the Americans give us more Patriots? Don’t they understand that the Russians are monsters? They’re not human. They’re going to kill us all. Why don’t we have more Patriots?”

Joseph Roche is a journalist in Ukraine and contributor to The Counteroffensive.