Russia has conducted over 700 indiscriminate and deliberate attacks on Ukraine's health care since the beginning of a full-scale invasion last February, leaving the country's system on the brink of collapse.
A joint report by five human rights organizations operating inside Ukraine documented 707 total Russia's attacks on health care perpetrated from February 24 to December 31, 2022.
The attacks damaged or destroyed 218 hospitals and clinics, with the heaviest destruction in the country's East side. In ten provinces, 48 hospitals were hit multiple times. One of them, the Severodonetsk Multiprofile Hospital, was hit ten times between March and May 2022. Researchers say this indicates the indiscriminate nature of attacks and the possibility that the facilities were deliberately targeted.
Russia carried out 86 attacks on health care workers, killing 62 and injuring 52. Many others were threatened, imprisoned, taken hostage, and forced to work under Russian occupation. Some even reported assaults and torture.
The attacks were most intense in the first two weeks of the invasion, when an average of four to five hospitals and clinics were hit daily.
The war resulted in the mass displacement of specialist care professionals, leaving facilities understaffed and remaining colleagues at risk of burnout. A lack of running water and electricity in some facilities made providing care even more difficult.
Researchers call the impacts of these attacks "devastating and far-reaching," from severely restricted or denied access to medical care to diminished vaccine rates and severe mental health tolls.
"Russia's brutal strategy is deliberately merging civilian and military targets in war. For them, destroying hospitals, schools, and the power grid is a way to achieve military aims. Russia used this murderous tactic before, in Chechnya and Syria, but faced no accountability. If impunity doesn't end now, we will see many more hospitals destroyed as a means of war in the future. Unpunished evil always grows," said Pavlo Kovtoniuk, report co-author and co-founder of the Ukrainian Healthcare Center (UHC).
As international law prohibits targeting health care facilities and workers in an armed conflict, the report's authors say there is a reasonable basis to believe that the documented attacks on health care constitute war crimes and potentially crimes against humanity.
U.S. vice-president Kamala Harris said last week that the examined evidence leaves no doubt that Russia's actions in Ukraine are crimes against humanity. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, she said that perpetrators of these crimes would be held accountable.
However, there have been no successful prosecutions for Russia's attacks on health workers in past conflicts, including Syria, Chechnya, and Georgia.
Moscow launched an unprovoked attack on Ukraine on February 24, 2022. This was a major escalation in a war started by Russia in Eastern Ukraine in 2014.
A year into the war, at least 8,000 civilians, including 487 children, have been confirmed killed, with nearly 13,300 injured, according to the UN Human Rights Office. Still, the true number is likely to be significantly higher. Another 14 million people were displaced from their homes, and millions need humanitarian assistance.
- Physicians for Human Rights. Destruction and Devastation One Year of Russia’s Assault on Ukraine’s Health Care System.
- UN Human Rights Office. UN rights chief deplores Ukraine death toll one year after Russian invasion.