Speeding west, Ukraine hospital train ferries patients to safety

LVIV: As the hospital train sped away from the frontline in war-torn Ukraine, electrician Evhen Perepelytsia was grateful he would soon see his children again after almost losing his life.

“We hope that the worst is over – that after what I’ve been through, it will be better,” the 30-year-old said, lying on a train carriage bed swaddled in a grey blanket.

He was among 48 wounded and elderly patients to be evacuated from embattled east Ukraine this weekend, pulling up in the western city of Lviv Sunday (Apr 10) evening after a long trip overnight.

The evacuation was the first from the east since a Russian strike killed 52 people among thousands waiting for the train at the eastern railway station of Kramatorsk on Friday.

And it was the fourth to be organised by medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb 24.

Inside one of the carriages turned ward-on-wheels, Perepelytsya recounted how he lost his leg to shelling in his hometown of Hirske in the eastern region of Luhansk.

He was standing outside, and he and his wife had just discussed abandoning their home to join their children in the west of the country, he said.

“I took one step forward, and when I made the second, I fell,” he said.

“It turned out that it hit very close to me, hit a monument, and a fragment from it tore off my leg.”

“WE SAVED HIS LIFE”

Sitting on the end of his bed, his wife Yuliya, 29, said she had been terrified she would lose him.

“He was unconscious twice in the intensive care unit,” she said.

“We couldn’t save his leg, but we saved his life.”

She said their three children were waiting in Lviv with their grandmother.

“We’re not going back,” she said.

The United Nations says at least 1,793 civilians have been killed and 2,439 wounded since Russia launched its invasion, but the actual tally is likely much higher.

More than 10 million people have been forced to flee their homes.

The Ukrainian authorities have in recent days urged all residents in the east of the country to flee westwards to safety as they fear Moscow will unleash the full force of its military there after setbacks around the capital Kyiv.

As the blue carriages pulled into Lviv, medics carried those who were unable to walk on stretchers into waiting ambulances, and helped the others on foot or in wheelchairs onto buses.

In one bus, 77-year-old Praskovya sat patiently with a large white bandage on her eye, and a net over her head to keep it in place.

“My eye hurts,” said the elderly lady from the village of Novodruzhesk in Luhansk, who did not give her second name.

“But the doctors on the train were great,” she added, of the 13 staff members on board, most of them Ukrainian.