Kiev protesters shun state hospitals for volunteer clinics

Medical volunteers carry a wounded journalist at the site of clashes with riot police in Kiev January 20, 2014. (REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko)

KIEV: Injured anti-government protesters fearing arrest are shunning Kiev’s hospitals and choosing to undergo operations in field clinics run by an army of volunteer doctors.

Since clashes between activists and security forces worsened last week, doctors have faced more serious injuries, colds and frostbite from the searing cold escalating to flesh wounds, gas burns and concussions from the violence.

“When I worked in the emergency ward, any injuries caused by suspicious violence had to be reported,” said Aleksandr Pyvovarov, 32, a former emergency physician from Kiev.

“The people know this and they would rather get treatment on the streets than go to jail.”

Videos posted online Thursday show police raiding an emergency ward in Kiev and arresting injured activists in their beds. An EU delegation to Ukraine has expressed concern about “deteriorating Human Rights” in the country.

“Arrests of wounded people in front of clinics ... can be accepted under no circumstances,” it said in a statement.

Doctors at the hospitals fear losing their jobs if they discuss the arrests, said Pyvovarov who has friends working on the wards.

“Not everybody agrees with these protests,” he added. “They think they are criminals making trouble.”

Pyvovarov is part of a team of 10 volunteer doctors based at two medical points at the main flashpoint near Dynamo Kiev football stadium.

Distinguished by red crosses taped on battered plastic helmets, they work on the front line of barricades to provide first aid to injured activists.

Radical far-right groups have recently taken anti-government protests further following the introduction of sweeping anti-protest legislation, and have clashed with police since Dec. 19.

“The injuries have got much worse,” Pyvovarov said.

“We used to be treating colds and hypothermia, now I see stuff straight from a war zone. Flesh wounds, gas burns, shrapnel in the eye and even some amputations.”

Protesters accuse police of deliberately aiming rubber bullets at head height, targeting medics on the battlefield and taping nails to stun grenades to create lethal weapons. Fifty percent of patients in the field hospitals are head and face injuries.

Police officers have been hurt at the hands of protesters who hurl rocks and Molotov cocktails across a barricade of burning tires. “I am officially stating that these are criminals who must answer for their actions,” said Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov last week.

Medics say up to six people have died since clashes last week, three of whom are recognized by the prosecutor’s office as having died from gunshot wounds.

Pyvovarov said he would only send the most severe cases to a few hospitals with trusted doctors.

Protest groups, known collectively as ‘Euromaidan,’ say officially 30 to 40 activists have been arrested in hospital, but the real number is much higher.

“Medical Point One” is housed in the National Parliamentary Library of Ukraine, meters from some of the fiercest fighting.

Inside, volunteer staff wearing paper gowns and face masks work in shifts to run a trauma unit and operating theater. Pastel green walls and golden cornices jar with the plastic sheeting underfoot. Bookshelves have been requisitioned for medicines and medical supplies donated by the public.

An activist, his faced streaked with dirt, is having his hand bandaged by two nurses. It was badly burnt and cut when a Molotov cocktail exploded in his hand during clashes at the weekend, he said. Now the wound is infected.

“Only idiots ... go to the hospitals,” he told Reuters. “They take one look at you and call the police,” he said, refusing to give his name.

In the main room, desks have been pushed together to form four makeshift operating tables. “It’s not much, but it’s all we have,” said Doctor Oleg Musii, 51, chief co-ordinator of the Euromaidan medical service and president of the Ukrainian Medical Association.

Musii runs the medical service of around 100 volunteer doctors, nurses and military medics from Kiev House of Trade Unions on Independence Square, where the protest movement has its biggest field hospital.

It was here that medics treated one of two members of the Berkut elite anti-riot unit, who were kidnapped by protesters Friday.

“We would treat anyone,” said activist Sviatoslav Yurash. “They are still Ukrainian citizens.” Both officers were released Saturday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 28, 2014, on page 11.




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