Ukraine’s power outages caused by Russian air strikes pose new challenge for critically ill

Each time Ukrainian pensioner Halyna Halytska prepares for her hospital treatment, she is preoccupied with a single thought: Will there be enough power and water to see her through?

Outages, caused by Russian air strikes on Ukraine’s infrastructure, can last for hours at a time as Halytska and 27 other patients lie tied to their dialysis machines in hospital in Obukhiv, a city south of Kyiv.

The power cuts hit pumping stations – a particular worry for the patients whose treatments use hundreds of litres of running water. Medics do their best. But sometimes the pipes run dry and they have to curtail the life-saving treatments.

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“It’s a war and there’s nothing we can do about it,” 65-year-old Halytska said from her hospital bed.

Russia stepped up attacks on power plants, substations and other targets in mid-October amid numerous battlefield setbacks following its Feb. 24 invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that around 40% of the country’s energy infrastructure has been seriously damaged.

On Thursday, Ukrainian Air Force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat said on television that Russia was likely stockpiling missiles and drones for future strikes.

Pedestrians use flashlights as they walk during a power cut in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, on Nov. 10, 2022.
(DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images)

‘We Couldn’t Leave’

Stable power is crucial for the patients in Obukhiv Central District Hospital, chief doctor Tetiana Tremba said.

But the outages keep coming, caused by direct strikes on infrastructure and the rolling blackouts imposed by energy providers to ease pressure on the grid and carry out repairs.

Shortening treatments can leave patients suffering from nausea, vomiting and other symptoms. But skipping treatment altogether is not an option. “They cannot live without it,” Tremba said.

Sometimes the impact of the war comes even closer.

Amid the dull hum of the dialysis machines, Halytska recalled the time last month when Russian strikes hit nearby during her treatment.

“We couldn’t do anything since we were tied up (to the equipment),” she said. “We couldn’t leave.”

Tremba was there too. “It’s such a responsibility,” she said. “So many people were lying here and we didn’t know how it would end.”

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Blackouts And Generators

Vitalii Vlasiuk, deputy governor of the Kyiv region in charge of healthcare, said around 60 hospitals in his area had been damaged in attacks, and twice as many affected in some way by Russia’s invasion.

Deputy Health Minister Bohdan Borukhovskiy told Reuters officials had not recorded any deaths as a result of power cuts.

“All departments in which planned surgeries took place were provided with a minimum level of electricity needed to continue and complete the medical procedures,” he said.

But Ukraine’s hospitals did not have enough generators to cover all the outages, he added.

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Government officials working with international partners had delivered more than 400 generators to hospitals nationwide, he said. Another 1,100 were expected from a joint project with the World Bank and 170 more from the World Health Organization.

The European Commission on Wednesday proposed an 18 billion-euro financial support package for Ukraine that would include funding for Kyiv to restore critical infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Halytska and the 27 other patients suffering from kidney diseases in the Obukhiv hospital have to lie back and wait for the next gap in the power cuts.

“Without dialysis, there is no life,” she said.