Rescuers search for more bodies at children’s hospital struck by Russia

Toll from Kremlin’s attack across Ukraine rises to 42; strike on the Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital interrupts open heart surgery, forces young cancer patients to take their treatments outdoors; woman doctor among two killed at hospital

Published - July 09, 2024 09:50 pm IST - KYIV

Volunteers clean up the blast site following a Russian missile strike on the Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine on July 9, 2024.

Volunteers clean up the blast site following a Russian missile strike on the Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine on July 9, 2024. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Rescuers searched the rubble at a children’s hospital on July 9 for more dead and wounded, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said, a day after Russian missiles slammed into the facility and cities across the country in a massive daytime barrage. The death toll from the strikes rose to 42, officials said.

Mr. Zelenskyy said on the social platform X that 64 people were hospitalised in the capital, as well as 28 in Kryvyi Rih and six in Dnipro — both cities in central Ukraine.

It was Russia’s heaviest bombardment of Kyiv in almost four months and one of the deadliest of the war, hitting seven of the city’s 10 districts. The strike on the Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital, which interrupted open-heart surgery and forced young cancer patients to take their treatments outdoors, drew an international outcry.

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The 10-story hospital, Ukraine's largest medical facility for children, was caring for some 670 patients at the time of the attack, Okhmatdyt’s Director General, Volodymyr Zhovnir, said on Tuesday. The missile hit a two-story wing of the hospital.

“The building where we conducted dialysis for children with kidney failure or acute intoxication is ruined entirely,” he told reporters, estimating the overall damage to the hospital at $2.5 million.

Danielle Bell, the head of a U.N. team tracking human rights violations in Ukraine, said at least two persons were killed at the hospital and some 50 people were injured, including seven children. The casualty figure would have been much higher if patients had not been taken to a bunker when air raid sirens first sounded, she added.

Zhovnir said one of the two killed at the hospital was a female doctor who took children to the shelter and then went back to check nobody had been left behind

Oleh Holubchenko, a pediatric surgeon at the hospital, was operating on a baby with congenital face defects. Despite the blast of air sirens, he and his team decided to continue with the operation. “We could not stop halfway through,” he told AP.

Rescue workers clear the rubble at the site of Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital a day after it was hit by Russian missiles, in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Rescue workers clear the rubble at the site of Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital a day after it was hit by Russian missiles, in Kyiv, Ukraine. | Photo Credit: AP

When the missile struck, the shock wave flung him across the operating theatre. Shrapnel caused him minor injuries and pierced the infant's ventilator. The baby, still with an open wound, had to be transported to another Kyiv hospital where they finished the surgery.

Authorities were working to restore the hospital's power and water supply as Kyiv city administrators declared on Tuesday an official day of mourning. Entertainment events were prohibited and flags were lowered in the capital.

Russia denied responsibility for the hospital strike, insisting it doesn’t attack civilian targets in Ukraine despite abundant evidence to the contrary, including Associated Press reporting.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday repeated that position, pointing to a Russian Defence Ministry statement that blamed a Ukrainian air defense missile for partially destroying the hospital.

Bell, the head of the U.N. team, dismissed that argument. She said an assessment of video footage and findings on site indicated the hospital “took a direct hit, rather than receiving damage due to an intercepted weapons system.”

The hospital likely was struck by a Russian Kh-101 cruise missile, Bell said. Ukrainian officials said the same.

Over the past year, Moscow has been honing tactics to break through Ukraine’s air defence, said Alexander Kovalenko, a military analyst from Resistance, a nongovernmental information group.

Russia used a large number of various types of missile on Monday that, arriving together, made it hard for Ukrainian air defenses to intercept them, he said.

“They have been experimenting with different kinds of rockets since 2023 to find the perfect combination to break through our air defense algorithms,” he said.

Russian forces have also programmed missiles to manoeuvre mid-air, according to Kovalenko, who added that during Monday’s attack, a missile appeared at first to head further west, but then swerved back to strike Kyiv, Kovalenko said.

The bodies of three more people were found on Tuesday under the rubble of a residential building in the Shevchenkivskyi district of Kyiv, officials said, bringing the death toll in the single building to 10.

The Russian onslaught on Monday came on the eve of a NATO summit in Washington where alliance countries are expected to pledge new military and economic support for Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, was hosting India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Moscow. New Delhi’s importance as a key trading partner has grown since the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Mr. Zelenskyy was deeply critical of Mr. Modi’s visit, saying on X late Monday: “It is a huge disappointment and a devastating blow to peace efforts to see the leader of the world’s largest democracy hug the world’s most bloody criminal in Moscow on such a day.”

Meanwhile, Russian military and regional officials said on Tuesday that Ukrainian drones targeted six Russian regions overnight, in what appeared to be a bigger-than-usual aerial attack by Kyiv's forces.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said air defence systems in five Russian southern and western regions “destroyed and intercepted” a total of 38 Ukrainian drones.

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