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Doctors Without Borders in Ukraine reports on what Russia left in its wake


Pharmacies looted by Russian soldiers, land mines placed in medical facilities, residents unable to leave their street for medical treatment - these are some of the awful scenarios that teams from Doctors Without Borders, MSF, found after going into areas liberated by Ukrainian forces in the country's east and south. Medical teams from the organization have treated some 11,000 patients in that region since November and published a report this month. Here to talk about that is Christopher Stokes. He leads the Doctors Without Borders operation in Ukraine. Thanks for joining us.

CHRISTOPHER STOKES: Yeah, hello. Thanks.

FLORIDO: You and your teams went into the areas in eastern and southern Ukraine after they were won back by Ukrainian forces. These were areas that were 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 over by both sides, actually. Then what we noticed is, within the destruction, nearly all the health facilities were destroyed, and some were even looted right down to window frames, basically. So for the population who managed to, you know, survive during this period, basically there was nearly no access to health care for months.

FLORIDO: And so talk about how hard it is to provide medical treatment in conditions like these once you do 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 wherever you can find. In some villages and towns, we couldn't find a single structure that was intact. So we actually brought in containers, and we did medical consultations from those containers. In other places, we went into private homes, and we sort of - people would come into these private homes, and we'd 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're seeing - how many of the injuries or the health conditions that you're treating are directly related to the war?

STOKES: Well, actually, it's a complex picture. So what you have is you have some directly related to the war. One village we were driving through - he was very lucky. A man was in the field behind his house, and he picked up an object. And it was a mine, and it blew off and it blew up his hand. And we just happened to be driving through, and we were able to bring him back. But you also have an older 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 older patients. And one of the problems they face is that they didn't have access to medicine for months, basically. They ran out of supplies.

FLORIDO: One of the details in your report which was just, you know, horrifying was members of your teams finding land mines inside medical facilities - clinics and hospitals. How are these land mines ending up in hospitals?

STOKES: That's something that we also find quite hard to explain and understand 'cause I've worked in in conflict areas for decades, actually, and it's not something you usually see. So at least on three different occasions - three different medical structures - we came across land mines. And then, when you link that to the looting, the general destruction - yeah, 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 have. How does what you're seeing in Ukraine compare to other places - like Angola, Kosovo, Rwanda - that you have worked in?

STOKES: Yeah, each are different. One of the specificities of Ukraine is the level of destruction. And that means that, over a front line of around 600 miles, there is no town or village that hasn't been damaged. And some have been practically erased from the map. And that is something you don't usually see. You can see it in one or two places, but here, it's over hundreds of miles.

FLORIDO: I've been speaking with Christopher Stokes in Kyiv. He leads the Doctors Without Borders operation in Ukraine. Thank you.

STOKES: Cheers. Take care. Bye.

SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.