NPR’s Adrian Florido talks to Christopher Stokes, who heads MSF’s Ukraine operation. A recent report by the organization says that the medical situation in the frontline areas is dire.
ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:
Pharmacies looted by Russian soldiers, land mines placed in medical facilities, residents unable to leave their way for medical care – these are some of the terrible scenarios that the teams of Doctors Without Borders, MSF, found after going to the areas liberated by Ukrainian forces in the country. the east and south of the country. The organization’s medical teams have treated about 11,000 patients in that region since November and published a report this month. Here to talk about it is Christopher Stokes. He leads the operation of Doctors Without Borders in Ukraine. Thanks for joining us.
CHRISTOPHER STOKES: Yes, hello. Thank you.
FLORIDO: You and your teams went into the areas of eastern and southern Ukraine after they were retaken by Ukrainian forces. These were areas that had been under Russian occupation for months. Can you describe what you found?
STOKES: What we saw was widespread destruction because some of these places had been fought by both sides, actually. So what we noticed is, in the destruction, almost all the health facilities were destroyed, and some were even looted up to the window frames, basically. So for the population that was able to, you know, survive in this period, basically there was almost no access to health care for months.
FLORIDO: And then you talk about how difficult it is to provide medical treatment in conditions like these once you arrive.
STOKES: Well, I think one of the main problems you have is just practical – where do you consult patients? So, you really have to pitch up where you can find them. In some towns and villages, we could not find a single structure that was intact. So we brought in containers, and we did medical consultations from those containers. In other places, we go into private homes, and we sort of – people would go into these private homes, and we do consultations from, you know, living rooms and front rooms, basically.
FLORIDO: Your teams have treated thousands of people in these areas since November. How much of what you see – how much of the injuries or health conditions you treat are directly related to war?
STOKES: Well, actually, it’s a complex picture. So what you have is that you have some directly related to the war. A village we drove through – was very lucky. A man was in the field behind his house, and he took an object. And it was a mine, and it blew up and jumped the hand. And we happened to drive through, and we were able to bring it back. But you also have an elderly population, perhaps with pre-existing medical conditions, so you have a lot of cardiovascular, hypertension, diabetes, etc., as you would expect to find in a population where 65% of our consultations are for the elderly patients. . And one of the problems they face is that they don’t have access to medicine for months, basically. They ran out of supplies.
FLORIDO: One of the details in your report that was just, you know, terrifying was that members of your teams found land mines in medical facilities – clinics and hospitals. How do these land mines end up in hospitals?
STOKES: It’s something that we also find very difficult to explain and understand because I’ve worked in conflict zones for decades, actually, and it’s not something you usually see. So, on at least three different occasions—three different medical facilities—we encountered landmines. And then when you link that to the looting, the general destruction – yes, the accessibility of health care for this population and the message it sends to them as well was really shocking.
FLORIDO: Doctors Without Borders, Christopher, has spent a lot of time in war-torn areas, and you specifically. How does what you see in Ukraine compare to other places – such as Angola, Kosovo, Rwanda – that you have worked in?
STOKES: Yes, everyone is different. One of the specificities of Ukraine is the level of destruction. And this means that, on a front line of about 600 kilometers, there is not a city or a village that has not been damaged. And some have been practically wiped off the map. And that’s something you don’t usually see. You can see it in one or two places, but here, it is more than hundreds of kilometers.
FLORIDO: I spoke with Christopher Stokes in Kiev. He leads the operation of Doctors Without Borders in Ukraine. Thank you.
STOKES: Greetings. Be careful. Bye bye.
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