Children suffering from cancer who have been sheltering in Ukrainian hospital basements may not survive if they cannot continue their treatment soon.
They desperately need to be evacuated to specialist centres, but are currently taking cover from shelling by Russian forces.
Doctors and nurses can currently only provide a basic form of chemotherapy due to a lack of medical supplies, which is simply not enough for many of the children.
‘These children suffer more because they need to stay alive to fight with the cancer – and this fight cannot wait,’ Dr Lesia Lysytsia told NBC News.
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Speaking from the basement of Okhmatdyt, Kyiv’s largest children’s hospital, she added: ‘If the children’s cancer treatment is interrupted further by the war, our patients, they will die.
‘We will calculate how many people or soldiers have died in attacks, but we will never calculate how many patients weren’t diagnosed of a disease in time, how many patients died because they didn’t receive treatment. It’s an epic amount of people.’
At Kyiv Regional Oncology Centre, some patients were suffering such low blood counts, doctors had to do transfusions from parents to children as supplies were so low.
There are more supplies at a medical centre in Lviv, in western Ukraine, but doctors say getting there is difficult as it may not even be safe to go outside at the moment.
Nonetheless they are working with medics to get children who cannot wait to be evacuated to the centre. The sickest of these children will then be sent to Poland where they have been promised medical care.
More than 500,000 refugees – mainly women and children – are fleeing Ukraine for the West, with some children separated from their parents or orphaned since the start of Russia’s invasion.
Queues of up to 25 miles have been reported at the borders with Poland and Romania, and tensions have been rising.
Yesterday 14 of the most vulnerable cancer patients were put on a bus to Lviv and another 20 will join them on a second bus before being escorted to the Polish border by police.
While it is safer in Liviv than Kyiv, Dr Roman Kizyma, lad pediatric oncologist at the Western Ukrainian Specialized Children’s Medical Centre, said bomb sirens are still going off every few hours.
He said medics are trying to make it seem like a game to ease the children’s nerves, telling them to run to the ‘dungeon’ when an alarm goes off.
Dr Kizyma said the situation is ‘traumatising’ and fears Polish hospitals will soon become overloaded.
But he said his team is determined to stay put, adding: ‘If we leave here, a lot of children we are determined to take care of will die.’
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