Since the first weeks of Russia’s full-scale invasion, bombings and wide-spread power outages have had a massive impact on Ukraine’s healthcare system, and cancer care facilities are no exception. The Global Coalition for Radiotherapy (GCR) and GCR’s Radiotherapy Task Force recognize the severity of the assault on Ukraine's health care system.
In a February 2023 eCancer interview with Prof. Richard Sullivan, Kings College London, Dr. Ruslan Zelinskyi, President of the Ukrainian Association for Medical Physicists, explained that
"The terroristic attacks on critical infrastructure of Ukraine, especially power station attacks started in September 2020. To date there have already been 17 attacks… Of course, some oncology centers were forced to temporarily stop radiotherapy due to lack of electricity."
Physicians for Human Rights highlights the impacts on the medical community in "Destruction and Devastation: One Year of Russia’s Assault on Ukraine’s Health Care System." The joint report produced by eyeWitness to Atrocities (eyeWitness), Insecurity Insight, the Media Initiative for Human Rights (MIHR), Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), and the Ukrainian Healthcare Center (UHC) claims that "there is a reasonable basis to believe that attacks on Ukraine’s health care system constitute war crimes and comprise a course of conduct that could potentially constitute crimes against humanity as well. This evidence urgently warrants immediate investigation by prosecutorial authorities."
The article further states that "over the entire period studied in this report (February 24-December 31, 2022), there was an average of more than two attacks on health care each day."
Since August of 2022, the GCR has been interviewing medical teams within Ukraine and those we have spoken with have confirmed these reports. Zhovnir Volodymyr Apollinariovych, General Director of Ohmatdyt Children’s Hospital said "the main and most important challenge in our work is that the country is in a state of war and that we have at least five to ten air alarms every day and we don't know if a missile will hit us, or if there will be an explosion, if children will die or not. This is the main difficulty."
Stanislav Rebenkov, head of Ohmatdyt’s Radiology Center expounded on the commitment to delivering care despite the challenges.
"There were problems with getting to work, and many employees simply could not get in the hospital or found themselves under occupation. And in these conditions, all the equipment of our hospital worked 24/7 thanks to those people who were staying in the hospital around the clock for more than three or four months."
Similar conditions were described in a September 2022 interview with Khmelytskyi Regional Antitumor Center’s Director of Oncology, Moroz Vycheslav, and Radiologist Yurchishyna Svitlana. Patients were frequently moved to bomb shelters while staff worked day and night to manage the patients' cancer treatments.
"We put our professional lives at a level above our other duties. We have 500 coworkers on our team and only 3 or 4 people left the hospital due to the war. Everyone here has a duty and is responsible for their work," said Vycheslav.
Amid the atrocities, Svitlana reported how cancer patients, too, have demonstrated extraordinary heroism.
"Our first patient who had radiotherapy on the new machine, was a man with lung cancer. And then after completing radiotherapy, he went to battle at the front, because he was a leader in the armed services. And after 2 weeks he returned to continue the second phase of his cancer treatment."
In GCR Co-Founder Prof. Pat Price's words, this heroic resilience by the whole of Ukrainian’s health care community "has inspired us in the Global Coalition to create this international Radiotherapy Task Force" growing to more than 175 members helping to disseminate information and resources. Price's hope is that the GCR's RT Task Force will continue to help the Ukrainian radiotherapy community move forward and rebuild after the war.
Darien Laird, GCR's Director of Communications, affirmed the RT Task Force goals over the next six months will be to focus on data collection so that "we know what patients are slipping through the cracks, what clinicians and others on the ground are not getting in terms of training and education so we can rebuild with patients at the focus."
Learn more about the Radiotherapy Task Force and the work our global network has been doing to support patients and colleagues in Ukraine: