Liptsi medics restore services after Russians destroyed their hospital
By Brian Dooley
Russian troops reached the Ukrainian village of Liptsi within minutes of launching their large-scale invasion on February 24, 2022. It’s only six miles from the Russian border. “They arrived at 5 am, and by 8 am Russian flags were flying from many buildings, and on the hospital,” said Yyliia Pyvovar.
Pyvovar started work as a nurse in the Liptsi hospital ten years ago, and she says the first time she turned up for work after the invasion Russian soldiers occupying the hospital said, “This place is for our wounded soldiers now. Your grandmothers and grandfathers are now your own problem.”
Local medics say Russian soldiers used the three-story hospital as a military base, treating their wounded on the first floor and using the two upper floors as a command center. Senior officers slept in the safety of the basement.
When Ukrainian forces retook Liptsi in September 2022, the Russians fled the hospital in a hurry, setting fire to the building as they left.
“They stole computers and other hospital equipment as they fled,” said doctor Maxim Ryzhkov. “And what they couldn’t take they destroyed.”
Yesterday Ryzhkov and Pyvovar showed me around the largely destroyed hospital. The rooms upstairs are filled with broken medical equipment. Russian soldiers smashed huge holes in the floors and ceilings to more quickly move between floors.
The fifteen steps down into the basement offer a glimpse into another world. This now-abandoned area headquarters for Russian commanders is dark and it stinks. A few dozen bunks line the walls, many charred by the fire set by the Russian soldiers as they left.
They clearly left in a rush. Boots, sneakers, food, books, teabags, and military medical equipment are all over the floor. A pile of Russian newspapers, dated July 22, 2022, sits in one corner.
In September of 2023 Ukraine’s Ministry of Health estimated that since their invasion on February 24, 2022, Russia’s military destroyed 190 medical facilities, and damaged 1,432 across Ukraine. Those numbers include 345 damaged or destroyed in the Kharkiv region.
Some local medics began repairing some of the least damaged rooms in the Liptsi hospital a few months ago, but Ukraine’s Ministry of Health, with support from the World Health Organization and the European Union, built a small new facility in the hospital’s parking lot.
Ryzhkov and Pyvovar are two of the eight medics who work here now. At the new clinic, in a trailer, the medics can see a few dozen patients every day. Many of the patients have heart conditions.
It’s nowhere near what the old hospital was offering: dentists, cardiologists, and a range of other specialists who used to treat hundreds of people daily. Still, it’s a vital medical service to this battered community.
Russian artillery shells still hit Liptsi, and the air alarm sounded several times during yesterday’s morning tour. The streets are largely deserted, and many houses’ walls or roofs were destroyed by the fighting.
Only around 3,500 of the pre-invasion population of 14,000 are left in the area. Many are elderly, already bundled up in hats and coats even though winter has yet to really begin. The coming months will be hard.
“We’re likely to see more respiratory problems as the cold weather sets in,” says Pyvovar, who is now head nurse at the new facility. “But at least now we have a medical center again where people can come and get treated, and we don’t have to travel around the area to visit people’s homes. What we really need is the hospital to be fully rebuilt — let’s hope this can start soon.”