The World Health Organization Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus visited Kyiv, Ukraine, late last week, to assess things for himself since the Russian invasion began in February. There, the scenes of devastation he saw brought back painful memories of fear, pain and loss that he had felt in his home country of Ethiopia, he said.
“As a child I experienced the smell, sound and devastation of war. My time in Kyiv has brought back those very painful and vivid memories of fear, pain and loss. I know the horror that people in Ukraine are experiencing and wish for peace to return – here and everywhere in the world,” he wrote on Facebook on Monday, sharing a picture that showed a destroyed building in Irpin, Ukraine, behind him.
Tedros, WHO Executive Director for Health Emergencies Dr Mike Ryan and WHO Representative in Ukraine Dr Jarno Harbicht took pictures in front of a building which has been destroyed by a Russian missile in Irpin, Ukraine.
Dr. Ghebreyesus hometown of Tigray has been at war and under siege by the Ethiopian and Eritrean government forces for close to two years. Thousands of people have been killed and millions have been displaced, according to to the United Nations.
At a joint press briefing on Saturday with the Minister of Health for Ukraine Viktor Liashko in Kyiv, Mr. Ghebreyesus disclosed that the WHO “has now verified 200 attacks on health care in Ukraine since the war began.” He added, “These attacks must stop. Healthcare is never a target.”
He said the WHO continues to call on the Russian Federation “to stop this war.”
He said, “I have spent the last two days in Ukraine and have been deeply moved by what I have seen and what I have heard. I have also had the honor of meeting with Prime Minister Schmyhal, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Dzhaparova, and others.
“We discussed the health situation in Ukraine, and how WHO can best support the Ministry of Health to deliver care in conflict areas, as well as to sustain care for those who need it throughout Ukraine.
“My time here has affected me very personally. As someone – myself, who grew up in a warzone myself, I understand only too well how the people of Ukraine feel – the worry for family and friends, the fear, the sense of loss and so on.
“Because I know the impact, I know the devastation of war firsthand. And I felt very, very sad when Russia invaded Ukraine because I know its impact and devastation.
“However, I have seen extraordinary resilience – people who have suffered loss and destruction but have not given up.
“They have kept going, repairing essential services to stop that destruction making a deeper hole in their lives.
“I have seen the damage inflicted on health structures, and listened to accounts of the harm – physical and mental – inflicted on health workers.
“These are people whose primary motivation is to protect health and life.
“WHO has now verified 200 attacks on health care in Ukraine since the war began. These attacks must stop. Healthcare is never a target.
“While I saw and learned of great suffering, I also saw bravery, humour, kindness and heard stories of spontaneous, often ingenious ways people have found to help and protect one another.
“Some of those I am talking about are our own WHO staff, who, although they have lost their homes, fear for their families, deal with daily uncertainty, and have kept working to support the health needs of the people of Ukraine.
“Our team in Ukraine was working hard to support the country to build an ever-stronger health system before the war. And that work will continue.
“Since Russia invaded Ukraine, WHO has delivered trauma and emergency supplies for use in over 15,000 surgeries and enough medicines and healthcare equipment to serve 650,000 people.
“We have also provided 15 diesel generators to provide electricity to hospitals and health facilities – some in the newly accessible areas in Kyiv Oblast which I just visited this afternoon and we are handing over 20 ambulances tomorrow.
“WHO has also supported or coordinated more than 50 Emergency Medical Teams in Ukraine and neighbouring countries hosting refugees, and in past months we have trained thousands of Ukrainian healthcare providers on how to handle mass casualties.
“This includes training on hospital blood transfusions in conflict settings, traumatic limb injuries, emergency nursing care, and essential burns care.
“We have also established three health hubs in western Ukraine to support medical evacuations, and ensured safe medical evacuation of patients, including those suffering from cancer, for treatment outside Ukraine.
“These are just a few examples of the work we are doing.
“I have been very moved by the resilience of the Ukrainian people, the bravery of Ukraine’s health workers, the dedication of our own WHO staff, and the commitment of the Ministry of Health under his leadership and the Government of Ukraine to protecting health in these terrible circumstances.
“My message to the Minister, and to all the people of Ukraine, is that WHO stands with you. We will do everything we can to support the Government in its efforts to treat the injured, maintain health services, and to repair and strengthen Ukraine’s health system.
“But there is one medicine that WHO cannot deliver, and which Ukraine needs more than any other, and that is peace.
“So we continue to call on the Russian Federation to stop this war.”