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Ukrainians doctors don't interrupt surgery when they hear air raid sirens


Elsewhere in Lviv, medical supplies are running low. Leila Fadel takes us to a cancer hospital there.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: On a recent morning at Lviv's regional cancer hospital, the halls are filled with patients. Medical staff call out orders. There are about five patients to a room. The doctors say this is their front line.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

FADEL: Clinical oncologist Anna Honcharova tells us the people she's treating for cancer are dealing with a double trauma.

ANNA HONCHAROVA: It is hard because patients are from the east or from Kyiv region. And they are exhausted emotionally and from disease, and it is harder. And during COVID period, it's much harder. And patients also tell us stories about bombings, about - and how they were in shelters, how they lost their homes, their families. It's horrible.

FADEL: So far, this city in western Ukraine has largely been spared Russian attacks terrorizing so many Ukrainian cities, cities these patients fled. In fact, this morning was the first time since the Russian invasion began that the city of Lviv was hit. So the war here is largely felt in different ways. When it first started, Dr. Orest Trill, the deputy director of the hospital, made a decision.

OREST TRILL: (Through interpreter) You cannot just stop in the middle of an operation when the air raid siren goes off. So we decided to continue operating despite the war.

FADEL: Medical staff don't take shelter in the middle of surgery. They don't abandon their patients. This place has become a refuge for the nation's sick.

TRILL: (Through interpreter) We're getting a lot of calls from cancer patients in central Ukraine and eastern Ukraine, cities such as Cherinihiv and Kharkiv. A lot of hospitals in Kyiv are closed right now, so those patients want to get treatment here. And despite the fact that a lot of roads are damaged, there is still a way from Kyiv to the south. And patients are driving themselves or taking trains to Lviv.

FADEL: The patient load at this hospital has doubled with the displaced, and supplies are running low.

TRILL: (Through interpreter) Right now we have more patients, like, 120 patients for chemotherapy every day. And we're receiving 20 or 30 additional calls from different regions.

FADEL: And do you have what you need to do the chemotherapy, to do the treatments?

TRILL: (Through interpreter) So our pharmacy planned for normal times. And you need to know that the majority of the medical warehouses are located near Kyiv or in Kyiv. They're not available to us right now, and we are in urgent need.

FADEL: The supplies they had on site - the the hospital ran through them in about three weeks.

TRILL: (Through interpreter) We can give them simple medicines like antibiotics. But if we're talking about chemotherapies, that is more difficult. Before the war, the central government bought these medicines in bulk from different countries. They're very expensive. And since the war started, that system just doesn't work anymore.

FADEL: So what does that mean for patients if they're not getting their treatments?

TRILL: (Through interpreter) the main problem is that with cancer, it is very important to get specific medicines at specific intervals.

FADEL: Delayed treatment means the cancer cells can divide and thrive.

So are you in a situation in which you've had to delay treatment for patients?

TRILL: (Through interpreter) Yes, unfortunately, we have that situation right now. We're getting calls from different patients asking for a specific medicine, but we have nothing to offer. The only way is to get the treatment abroad.

FADEL: That must be so hard to have to tell a patient, I cannot give you this treatment. We don't have the medicine. We don't have the ability.

TRILL: (Through interpreter) To be honest, it's very hard to tell the patient that, I cannot really help you. It's hard morally.

FADEL: He says the one bright spot is that there are countries ready to accept and treat Ukrainians like their own citizens, places like Poland and the Czech Republic. But these cancer patients still have to get themselves across the border.

INSKEEP: For the past three weeks of war, Leila Fadel has been reporting from Ukraine.


Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.

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