KYIV – On January 21, Yuriy Verbytsky suffered an eye injury during a violent clash with riot police in Kyiv. He went to Oleksandrivska Hospital with his friend, Igor Lutsenko. Minutes after the men were admitted, a clique of men entered their hospital room and beat them before dragging them from the building.
Two days later, Verbytsky’s dead body was found, with traces of duct tape over his face. Lutsenko survived, but not before he was tortured and left for dead in a forest outside the Ukrainian capital.
In the early days of the anti-government protest in Kyiv, demonstrators — some with gashed-out eyes and shrapnel-shredded legs — sought treatment at public hospitals. Now protesters admitted to hospitals are disappearing. Doctors tell Maclean’s that pro-government thugs are to blame. The wounded are afraid to get medical help.
Last week, Maclean’s visited a makeshift hospital on the third floor of a protester-occupied building on Kyiv’s Independence Square. The clinic is one of five in the barricaded territory.
Past a front door guarded by young men in heavy boots, we travelled narrow halls lined with mattresses, mismatched bedding and sleeping patients. Hallways opened to former business offices that are now filled with armies of volunteer doctors and medics. Away from the state’s watchful eye, the medical volunteers work to repair the broken bodies.
Roman Fishchuk is an ear, nose and throat specialist at the clinic, which is staffed by GPs, surgeons, dermatologists, dentists and other specialists.
The supply shelves are stocked with gauze, ointments and pills donated by individuals or sent from abroad by Ukrainian diaspora communities. Telling details give the makeshift centre away. Boxes of half-used lotions line the floors of operating rooms; patients are examined in uncomfortably close quarters; cooling cups of lemon tea sit alongside surgical plates.
When doctors can, says Fishchuk, they perform minor surgeries. Maclean’s watched three doctors repair the bloody eye of a young man. “But if the person really needs in-patient medical care, then we try to find a hospital and doctors we can trust.”
Human Rights Watch has warned that police are targeting medical workers. On January 19, when police attacked protesters on Hrushevskogo Street with “tear gas, rubber bullets, stun grenades and water cannons,” medics were not spared. Three days later, riot police attacked a medical centre on the same street: breaking glass windows and lobbing grenades.
Dr. Fishchuk, just 26, says he is not afraid.
It’s not for doctors to take sides, he says. “They should treat anyone who needs help. Even if a member of the riot police came in, we would provide him with help.”