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Fighting to survive: Ukraine's cancer patients' struggle to find care while fleeing

Patients wait in a hospital hallway in Lviv. They receive treatment in the morning and don't stay overnight because it's too hard to get hundreds of patients into the shelter in the case of an air raid siren.
Ryan Kellman
/
NPR
Patients wait in a hospital hallway in Lviv. They receive treatment in the morning and don't stay overnight because it's too hard to get hundreds of patients into the shelter in the case of an air raid siren.

Lviv's regional cancer hospital has become a refuge for the nation's sick. The patient load has doubled as the displaced search for treatment away from Russia's bombardments in the country's center, east and south.

But even here, in the relative safety of this western city, supplies are running low. The hospital had about three weeks of reserves on site. Their stockpiles near and in the capital city of Kyiv are now inaccessible and the hospital is in urgent need of medical resupplies.

Doctors say they're treating patients who are dealing with a double trauma.

The patient load has doubled in Lviv as the displaced search for treatment away from Russia's bombardments in the country's center, east and south.
Ryan Kellman / NPR
/
NPR
The patient load has doubled in Lviv as the displaced search for treatment away from Russia's bombardments in the country's center, east and south.

"Patients from the east and Kyiv region, they are exhausted emotionally from both war and from disease," said clinical oncologist Anna Honcharova. "It's much harder than in COVID times. And there are a lot of patients — much more than we usually have. They tell stories of bombings, how they were in shelters — lost homes. It's horrible."

Every day, they choose the duty of care over their own personal safety. When the war first began over three weeks ago, Dr. Orest Trill, the hospital's deputy director, made a decision.

"You cannot just stop in the middle of the operation when the air raid siren goes off," he says, "so we decided to continue operating — despite the war."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

A patient lies in one of the many full hospital beds in Lviv.
Ryan Kellman / NPR
/
NPR
A patient lies in one of the many full hospital beds in Lviv.
Lviv's regional cancer hospital has become a refuge for the nation's sick.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Lviv's regional cancer hospital has become a refuge for the nation's sick.
At times, Dr. Orest Trill, the deputy director of Lviv's regional cancer hospital, has had to tell patients in besieged areas that they can come to the hospital but they don't have the medicine to treat them. He calls it "morally hard."
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
At times, Dr. Orest Trill, the deputy director of Lviv's regional cancer hospital, has had to tell patients in besieged areas that they can come to the hospital but they don't have the medicine to treat them. He calls it "morally hard."
A patient sits in a chair while being treated. Doctors say they're treating patients who are dealing with the double trauma of fighting to heal while trying to survive Russia's invading forces.
Ryan Kellman / NPR
/
NPR
A patient sits in a chair while being treated. Doctors say they're treating patients who are dealing with the double trauma of fighting to heal while trying to survive Russia's invading forces.
"Patients from the east and Kyiv region, they are exhausted emotionally from both war and from disease," clinical oncologist Anna Honcharova said.
Ryan Kellman / NPR
/
NPR
"Patients from the east and Kyiv region, they are exhausted emotionally from both war and from disease," clinical oncologist Anna Honcharova said.
Yaroslav Shparyk is at the cancer hospital in Lviv.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Yaroslav Shparyk is at the cancer hospital in Lviv.
Even here, in the relative safety of this western city, supplies are running low.
Claire Harbage / NPR
/
NPR
Even here, in the relative safety of this western city, supplies are running low.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Arezou Rezvani is a senior editor for NPR's Morning Edition and founding editor of Up First, NPR's daily news podcast.
Graham Smith is a Senior Producer on NPR's Investigations team and winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for audio reporting. He works with staffers, station reporters and independent journalists to dig deep and create sound-rich, long-form stories and series.
Ievgen Afanasiev
Ryan Kellman is a producer and visual reporter for NPR's science desk. Kellman joined the desk in 2014. In his first months on the job, he worked on NPR's Peabody Award-winning coverage of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. He has won several other notable awards for his work: He is a Fulbright Grant recipient, he has received a John Collier Award in Documentary Photography, and he has several first place wins in the WHNPA's Eyes of History Awards. He holds a master's degree from Ohio University's School of Visual Communication and a B.F.A. from the San Francisco Art Institute.