Psychiatric hospital in rebel-held Ukraine faces desperate situation

Patients at a psychiatric hospital in the rebel-controlled Ukrainian city of Horlivka are not receiving the treatment they need due to a lack of doctors and medication.

The staff, what’s left of it, struggle to care for their confused and vulnerable patients with insufficient manpower and lack of medical supplies that can bring the patients a measure of peace, as fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia rebels gathers new force after a lull.

The hospital, like scores of others in the rebel-controlled east, is plagued not only by the bombs and bullets but by the fact that the Ukrainian government has stopped sending pensions and other social payment to the rebel-held territories, and residents can only get their money by travelling to government-controlled areas.

Getting the paperwork to do so is laborious.

The trip itself can be stressful and perilous, and many of those in most need of money have mental or physical ailments that prevent them from travelling at all.

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Chief doctor Tatiana Sergunova describes it as a “blockade” by the Ukrainian government. “It’s impossible to bring medicine here,” she said.

The international aid group Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, said psychiatric patients across easternUkraine are suffering from a lack of basic care.

“The problem of drugs in psychiatric hospitals is severe problem. So we visit these institutions, find that they have lack of drugs to treat all these patients,” said Franklin Friaz, an MSF medical coordinator.

“For example antibiotics, painkillers, and most important for them is psychotropic drugs.”

Even when it has money, the hospital can’t buy the required medications because pharmacies don’t have them in stock.

Major humanitarian organisations like MSF also have difficulty finding the drugs needed by the mental patients. That means there’s sometimes no respite from mental suffering even as war drives it to unbearable levels.

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The Horlivka hospital, which has been shelled several times, is trying to rebuild.

The broken windows have been repaired, and some new staff has been hired, though they are inexperienced.

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“I have to work for two people now,” said one of the doctors, Evgeniy Menyaenko.

But even as conditions improve slightly, the hospital is a distressing place. Typically for provincial hospitals in the former Soviet Union, the patients sleep in narrow beds in crowded open wards. Some of them mumble, or obsessively chant incomprehensible phrases.

That could strain the Horlivka hospital, which has only one psychologist to care for the 30 patients already there with serious psychological damage from the conflict.

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