Ukraine: Always looking east

We ask Ukrainian nurse Romanna Markiv about her life and the future she envisions, as well as the patient care she tirelessly provides in the city of Lviv.

A nurse from Lviv reports on the current situation in Ukraine

Translated from the original French version

The city of Lviv is more than a thousand kilometres away from the hell in the Donbass. But the ostensible peace is regularly disturbed by Russian missiles. Besides, there are patients arriving from the east, who are treated by the physiotherapist Romanna in the hospital. The 27-year-old lives to the beat of the alarms and volunteers in two organisations.

Romanna: A life between standstill and change

On 24 March, Romanna's life came to a halt, yet it also sped up. She had seen the war coming. A week before the Russian attack, she begged her parents and sister to flee to friends in Poland. At the time, her family did not believe her and refused to flee. Since then, they have all moved to her grandfather in the countryside, where it is a little less dangerous.

Romanna stayed behind alone in Lviv, this great city in the west of Ukraine near the Polish border. While she was not drafted, it never occurred to her to abandon the hospital, the patients or her city. "Right now, I am needed here." Even the rockets that struck just 300 metres from her flat at the beginning of the attack, leaving several people dead, could not change her mind. Since then, power plants, railway lines and military buildings have also been targeted in the area around Lviv.

Romanna Markiv works as a physiotherapist in a hospital in the city centre. At 27, she has just finished her training, having graduated with a nursing diploma in 2016. When she was about to go to work on 24 March, she received a call from a friend. Then the sirens started wailing. The city was paralysed, everyone wanted to escape. It took hours for her to get to the hospital.

Lviv: A daily routine to the sounds of alarms

As she did before the war, Romanna works in a palliative care ward. But she also cares for patients in rehab after strokes or heart disease and now also for civilians who have fallen victim to bombings. Soldiers are referred to military hospitals, where they agree not to disclose information when they are admitted.

One thing that has changed, however, is the number of patients. The hospital is permanently full of injured and sick people coming from the east. Then there are the constant alarms, sometimes up to five times a day. The hospital is far from any military facilities and has not yet been bombarded. But, clear instructions are in place: The medical staff has ten minutes to evacuate all patients to the basement. And it is the same procedure every time: First the able-bodied patients and the wheelchair users who drag their infusion stands and oxygen tanks behind them, and then the bedridden patients.

On her days off, Romanna again returns to the hospital to volunteer with the distribution of medical relief supplies that arrive in trucks. Hurriedly, she unloads equipment and medicines, takes inventory, repackages, loads onto other trucks, which then travel to other hospitals. She had to reschedule our conversation and apologised: "There were trucks arriving and going back to Kharkiv. We only had a few hours to get everything done".

"They won't ever get those hugs again"

An ever increasing number of patients, war casualties, alarms... But for Romanna, working in the hospital is not the hardest part. She is committed to an association that looks after small children, the oldest of whom are six years old. "When they get off the train, empty gazes on their faces, I know exactly what they need. They need hugs from their parents. But they won't ever get those hugs again."

Every week, the association takes care of 80 orphans. They need to be taken care of, fed and clothed. By ambulance, Romanna picks up the vulnerable children. Then she starts touring the hospitals to find a free bed for them. Finally, she tries to find clothes and nappies.

In a country at war, is it possible to speak of a future? We ask Romanna about how she envisions the future, and the first thing she mentions is the psychological care that is absolutely necessary for all the victims, for the orphans, for the martyrs of Butcha, for the inhabitants of Mariupol "who stayed in shelters next to corpses for weeks because there was no way to get them out".

More than a thousand kilometres away from the hell in the Donbass, Romanna is toiling away in the seemingly peaceful city of Lviv. Her gaze is constantly directed eastwards. That is where she sees her future. She is on a waiting list to join her colleagues who have already been sent to hospitals in the devastated areas. Many of her friends who went to war have not been in touch for weeks. "They are probably dead."