Lviv (Ukraine) – The chest rises and falls violently. And the body moves with you. Little Gordi is actually asleep, says his mother Viktoria, while she strokes his head. The heart rate monitor is attached to his right hand, and the boy gets additional oxygen through a tube. A heater over his crib keeps him warm. Gordi is only a few weeks old. In the 25th week of pregnancy, Viktoria gave birth to him in the maternity hospital in Lviv in western Ukraine. He was only 700 grams when he was born. It beeps all around. In addition to Gordis, there are six other beds and two incubators in the room.

Maternity hospital in Lviv will since the beginning of the large-scale Russian attack on Ukraine from the Potsdam Clinic Ernst von Bergmann supports. So far, four shipments of humanitarian aid from Potsdam have gone to Ukraine. Around 70 tons of medicines, medical material and technology such as X-ray and ultrasound equipment worth around 500,000 euros were delivered. The clinic in Lviv has also benefited from this. “The medication helped us in particular,” says clinic director Maria Malachinska. We are very grateful for that. The invitation to Mayor Mike Schubert (SPD) is still standing. He is very welcome.

Clinic director Maria Malachinska.Photo: Marco Zschieck

The 44-year-old has been director of this maternity clinic for a good two years. Help, she says, could be used. Because the hospital is the central maternity clinic for the entire Lviv region with around 2.5 million inhabitants and also takes in patients from neighboring regions, but since the start of the large-scale Russian invasion there has been even more work for the doctors and nurses do. Malachinska says that the country currently has the second highest number of births after Ukraine’s largest maternity clinic in Kyiv.

Lviv is the hub of the refugee movement

The reason is that many people have fled from the contested and threatened areas of Ukraine to the supposedly safer west of the country. And Lviv is the largest city far and wide. The city, whose historic center is a World Heritage Site, is the hub of the refugee movement – not just abroad. In addition, according to the director, the nature of the stress in the clinic has also changed. More and more children are born before the expected date and need more intensive treatment, explains Malachinska. This is due to the stress that the expectant mothers are exposed to due to the war. The effort of fleeing is one thing. In addition, there is the fear for the unborn child, oneself and the relatives.

Under normal conditions, the clinic counts around 6,000 births a year, says Malachinska. Among them are around 1000 deliveries before the calculated date. Some of the newborns only weigh 500 grams. “They need an incubator.” Their bodies are not yet ready for the world. The incubators ensure a constant temperature and protect against infections. In addition, the circulation can be monitored in this way.

But this form of intensive care requires electricity. And that can fail in war for various reasons. For the incubators, the hospital also needs emergency generators that can step in. According to Malachinska, 1,000 women who fled from regions further east have given birth in the clinic since the end of February. 400 of them had premature births.

Maria’s baby weighed only 1130 grams at birth

A mother refuses to leave one of the incubators in the same room. Her baby lies under a transparent plastic roof. Maria comes from Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine. The city center there is only 40 kilometers away from the Russian border. From the first day of the invasion there was fighting in the area, for weeks the city was shelled with artillery and rockets. Maria fled to the west of the country in March.

But there were complications during the pregnancy. Your child was born in the 30th week of pregnancy. At birth, the boy weighed 1130 grams, according to a small tag stuck on the incubator. This boy is also called Gordi. The name is more typical of western Ukraine, but she liked that it had something to do with the child’s place of birth, says Maria.

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The hospital, with its total of up to 600 beds, was completely renovated just over two years ago. You can tell by looking at him. The apricot-colored facade glows in the June sun. The corridors are bright and friendly designed. In the stairwell there are potted plants on every landing and watercolors hang on the walls. On the floor there is a sitting area with comfortable sofas for the first visitors of newborns and outside a green area for the first walk. Apparently the aim was to create a pleasant environment.

The first air raids had to be improvised

The clinic is in demand. Nadezhda fled Kyiv with her husband when fighting raged in the area. She later traveled on to Warsaw, she says, holding the two-day-old sleeping Yelizaveta in her arms. But she came to Lviv to give birth to her daughter. “I felt better here than in Poland.”

Nadezhda with her daughter Yelizaveta, who is only a few days old.Photo: Marco Zschieck

During the renovation, however, no one thought of a big war, and certainly not of an air raid shelter. The first air raids had to be improvised. Since then, a certain routine has set in. After all, as of June 20, Lviv Oblast had already received 111 air alerts lasting five days and two hours. Although that is significantly less than in the areas further east, they still pose more than just a theoretical threat. Russian rockets have also landed in Lviv. An oil depot was hit in March, and warehouses and a tire changing service in April. There were dead and injured.

The path, which promises at least some security, leads over a narrow staircase into the boiler room under one of the buildings. The door is at most 1.60 meters high and so is the ceiling of the cellar. You have to duck to avoid hitting yourself. All sorts of cables run under the ceiling. The floor is not fixed, but made of sand and rubble. There are water supplies and a toilet. Around 100 makeshift loungers with blankets and pillows have been prepared in the dimly lit basement, along with a few changing tables and several rows of roughly constructed benches. This is not enough to accommodate all patients.

Around 100 temporary couches were set up in the basement.Photo: Marco Zschieck

The expansion of a second cellar is in progress

Therefore, a second cellar is currently being built under the neighboring building. An excavator has dug a hole next to the foundation and torn a gap in the wall. Until the basement is finished, a room on the ground floor of a neighboring building should offer temporary protection: the few windows are stacked up with sandbags to keep out pressure and splinters. The premature babies also have to go into this room because the hygienic conditions in the boiler room are not good enough.

Sandbags were piled meters high to protect the space.Photo: Marco Zschieck

Actually, other purchases were planned this year, says director Malachinska. The clinic should finally get an ambulance for newborns. The funds were already included in the financial plan. But after the Russian attack, the money was canceled. The vehicle, equipped with a mobile incubator, is currently all the more needed.

No photos of patients – for security reasons

There is a rehabilitation clinic a few kilometers outside of town. Photo portraits are attached to a board near the entrance to the village. Three rows of six pieces each. All have a black bar at the bottom right. They show fallen soldiers. There is still space on the board. Compared to the maternity clinic, the building still exudes post-Soviet charm: the facade is clad in the typical gray tiles that adorn public buildings from the late Soviet Union nationwide. Inside you can see that it has been a while since the last renovation. But everything works. Although sometimes not fast enough for the medical director Roman Seredych: When the elevator doesn’t come right away, he rushes to the stairs.

Rehabilitation clinic director Roman Seredych.Photo: Marco Zschieck

Because the hospital treats not only civilians but also soldiers, the exact location of the hospital is not to be made public. There should also be no photos of the patients. “That’s the rules. Because of safety,” says the doctor and shrugs his shoulders. The hospital, with its 700 beds, is actually a civilian facility, but under current martial law it is designated as a reserve by the military. In the meantime, only 50 percent of the patients are civilians from the region, the other half are people who have fled from the East or soldiers. The wounded are often transferred from other hospitals to the rehabilitation clinic after acute care. That is also the case with the wounded soldiers.

nightmare at the front

Most of the injuries are from explosions, says Volodya Lykhach. As a psychiatrist, he takes care of mental rehabilitation. Gunshot wounds from guns or the like are rare. “If the blast is close, you’re dead. If it’s further away, you’re badly injured.” Complicated fractures, shrapnel in the body and amputations. That’s why the injuries often have lasting consequences, including mental ones. This applies not only to the soldiers, but also to civilians. “They often lost everything as well: house, documents, their whole life,” says Seredych. You will need more staff for rehabilitation for a long time. “There are so many injured.” This clinic alone has admitted 1,000 patients since February.

The intensity of the fighting is enormous even for experienced soldiers, says Volodya. “Veterans who have served in Donbas since 2014 say that since February it has been a nightmare at the front. Before that, it was child’s play in comparison.” The professional soldiers are mentally the best prepared. Not only do they have experience, they usually have what is known as trauma training, so that they can deal better mentally with life-threatening situations. But since February, tens of thousands of new volunteers have also joined the army.

Psychiatrist Volodya Lykhach.Photo: Marco Zschieck

One of the professional soldiers is Vlad. The 29-year-old tank driver comes from Kyiv. The sergeant said he was wounded in a rocket attack in the Chernihiv region at the beginning of March. The doctor said it was a serious back injury. More than three months later he can feel his arms and legs again, but can hardly move them. There is a wheelchair next to his bed. As soon as he is fit again, he wants to go back to his unit. “We need the Leopard tanks,” says Vlad in English.

His roommate Andrej, who laughs and greets him from his bed, is not quite as enthusiastic about a speedy recovery. The 43-year-old is a captain and has commanded a unit in the Donbas. On the very first day of the Russian attack, a Russian artillery shell shattered his right lower leg near the town of Popasna. What’s left of it is still held together almost four months later by a metal rod and screws. At least the doctors were able to save his foot. Scars from minor wounds can also be seen on his other leg.

He would like to ask Potsdam’s Olaf Scholz, when the promised tank howitzers would come, says Andrei. Panzerhaubitze he says in German. Artillery is a powerful weapon. He knows his way around, he says and points to his leg. A day later, the Ukrainian government reported that the first self-propelled howitzers had arrived from Germany.