Health

Ukraine war: WHO says attacks on hospitals are increasing daily

There have been more than 70 separate attacks on hospitals, ambulances and doctors in Ukraine with the number increasing on a “daily basis”, says the World Health Organization (WHO).

It says the targeting of healthcare facilities has become part of the strategy and tactics of modern warfare.

A recent casualty on 8 March was the newly refurbished central hospital in Izyum, south of Kharkiv.

It was hit by what the Ukrainian authorities said were Russian shells.

Video and photos posted online by the city’s deputy mayor showed extensive damage to the main hospital building. A new reception area built last year was completely destroyed.

The footage has been verified by the BBC and other media outlets, although the exact circumstances of the attack are impossible to establish at this time.

“After the first bombing, the windows of the hospital blew out,” the deputy mayor Volodymyr Matsokin told the BBC.

A second attack destroyed the hospital’s operating rooms, he added.

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That day hospital staff were treating children, pregnant women and three newborn babies as well as soldiers and civilians injured in fierce fighting in the region, according to the Ukrainian authorities.

They were sheltering in the basement at the time of the attack and no-one was killed.

“The government had invested millions to provide good facilities with modern equipment,” said Mr Matsokin.

“Patients had to climb out of the rubble on their own to escape.”

The BBC has contacted the Russian embassy in London about the attack but has received no response, although in the past Moscow has denied deliberately targeting civilians.

Since 24 February, the WHO has reviewed and verified 72 separate attacks on healthcare facilities in Ukraine causing at least 71 deaths and 37 injuries.

Most have damaged hospitals, medical transports and supply stores, but the WHO has also recorded the “probable” abduction or detention of healthcare staff and patients.

“We are concerned that this number is increasing daily,” the WHO’s Ukraine country representative Jarno Habicht told the BBC.

“Health facilities should be safe places for both doctors and nurses, but also patients to turn to for treatment. This should not happen.”

Because the war in Ukraine is an international armed conflict between two states, the Geneva Conventions apply.

Expanded in the aftermath of World War Two, the conventions set out the basic rights of civilians and military personnel, and establish protection for the wounded and sick. They were ratified by what was then the Soviet Union in 1954.