in the children’s hospital in Zaporizhia sandbags to protect injured children from Mariupol

“Those sandbags, that’s the first thing you see. And it’s totally surreal.” The scene, captured by Magnum photographer William Keo, z release (subscriber edition), stands in a dark room in the children’s hospital in Zaporizhia in south-eastern Ukraine. This March 19, the care center receives very young children – sometimes babies – who were injured about 220 km away in the hell of the port of Mariupol besieged by Russian forces.

“It feels like you’re in the basement” but this particularly dark room is actually on the ground floor of the hospital, the photographer tells franceinfo. Two imposing windows are almost completely covered with fifty sandbags and cardboard. Daylight struggles to traverse the space. These sandbags, these boxes are supposed to protect four young patients “possible bombings” and bullets that can easily pass through a window.

Milena, 13, is in an induced coma at the Children's Hospital in Zaporizhia, Ukraine, on March 19, 2022 after being shot in the jaw while leaving Mariupol.  (WILLIAM KEO / MAGNUM PHOTOS)

So far, however, the hospital has been spared “Bomb threat hangs over the whole country”, remembers William Keo continuing his coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “There were bombings near Zaporizhia. They living under stress.” Upon entering this room “extremely quiet”, where the mood was “heavy”, The photographer reflects on the shot that transcribes what he observes. “How not to enter a too intimate space”, that of the patient? Then he decides to leave a large space in the picture for these sandbags, which illustrate the threat of the bombs. We were impressed to see that they had to come to it.”he describes.

“They protect hospitals, it’s a very strong symbolic violence.”

William Keo, Photographer

at franceinfo

According to the World Health Organization, there have never been as many attacks on the health system as there are in Ukraine. This was determined by the United Nations health authority (link in English) 64 “Attacks on the health system in 25 days” war in the country, “Causing 15 dead and 37 injured”. “That’s between two and three attacks a day.”

Behind this mass of sandbags in the hospital room is 13-year-old Milena “fall into an artificial coma”reports the journalist from release Peter Alonso. “A bullet in the jaw that didn’t come out. Milena survived despite the bleeding,” he writes. According to statements collected by the reporter and William Keo, the teenager was injured while trying to leave Mariupol. “Russian forces found that they had injured civilians. Soldiers took her to the nearest hospital.” before his transfer to Zaporizhia, we said to French journalists.

The room welcomed three more young war victims on March 19. “The sounds of medical instruments drowned out our voices. The doctors whispered so as not to wake the children,” remembers William Keo. Artem, 2 years old, “slept in the stroller”, wounded in the head and stomach by shrapnel. Masha, 15 years old, “had just been amputated”. In his village “lThe bombing raids were far away, then they came closer, closer and closer“, said the teenager Release. She was near a daycare center and medical centers when a strike hit her.

Another young girl had just arrived at the hospital after suffering head injuries from shrapnel. “She was terrified at the thought of having her hair cut to have an X-ray.” illustrious William Keo.

“She screamed very loudly. Her extreme state of stress triggered this response. Everything scared her, it shaped us a lot.”

William Keo, Photographer

at franceinfo

Inside the hospital, the stories of these young patients impressed the photographer, as did the dozens of sandbags designed to protect them. These Mariupol survivors, writes his colleague Pierre Alonso, are deeply traumatized.

A week after Pierre Alonso and William Keo reported, a CNN crew visited Milena, who had come out of her induced coma. According to the report, the young Ukrainian, a gymnast apprentice before the Russian offensive, is still barely able to walk.

Together with the headquarters of Mariupol, the children’s hospital in Zaporizhia, “extremely well organized”, “preparing for the arrival of many children”, warns William Keo. In the words of the survivors, a phrase often appeared to describe the situation in the besieged port: “aabsolutely terrifying”. stories “bombs rain all the time”, “so many corpses on the streets”, complete lack of a safe place. “Any civilian building [de Marioupol] was hit at least once describes the photographer. The word ‘hell’ appeared often in the testimonies.”

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