A group of 120 inmates from a psychiatric center in the Donbas region arrived in Lviv, the capital of the rear in western Ukraine, on Sunday afternoon. They, and the volunteers waiting with stretchers and wheelchairs to help them disembark, numbered about 200 people on the platform. Despite the crowd, the scene unfolded in a silence that weighed on the soul of those present. The sudden cry of one of the patients shook this slow-motion procession of pain in the station. A member of the German fire team was turning away to cry; a policeman surreptitiously wiped his tears. The patients had been evicted two days earlier from Severodonetsk, after a Russian attack destroyed part of the hospital facilities in which they resided.
The evening sun was fading in the Lviv sky as volunteers carried men and women who could barely take a step without assistance. The train ride from Kramatorsk, a thousand kilometers away, took a whole day. There were elderly and handicapped, men without legs or without arms. Above all, there were drug addicts and war veterans, the two risk groups that are the specialty of the evacuated institution, the Severodonetsk Mental Health Center. Tatiana Shapovalova, an employee of the organization and responsible for the transfer, was giving orders from one place to another. Her lieutenants were two women who were desperately looking for doctors to provide them with some specific medication that one of their patients had lost on the train.
Those who could walk crossed the human corridor guided by a volunteer. Theirs were lost looks, from people who were not aware of where they were, people with fragile health who have been expelled from their safe space. Despite the disorientation, many of them held tightly to the little luggage they carried with them, without letting the station staff hold them. They descended the stairs that connect the tracks with the entrances to the station and there, in some school buses, they waited for the entire delegation to have left the train. The buses would transport them at night to a psychiatric center in Chernivtsi, a six-hour drive away, not far from the Romanian border.
Russian artillery hits on Severodonetsk health facilities have been no exception. The best-known precedent was the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol. There have also been attacks in other psychiatric centers, one in the town of Izyum, in the Kharkov region, and another in Borodyanka, in kyiv.
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Transfer to Chernivtsi
The inmates waited sitting in the buses, except for those who could not fend for themselves. The latter lay on stretchers, placed in a row on the ground, and waited for the medical staff to put them on adapted vehicles. NGO workers distributed dinner trays inside the buses, and the food was devoured in a matter of minutes. Then dozens of men left their seats on the buses to pounce on a volunteer handing out cigarettes, while another lit them. “Smoking, in the case of drug addicts, is very calming. At a time like this, it’s a blessing,” explains Carlota Boyer, a psychologist from Alicante who is volunteering these days at the Lviv train station with the Causas Comuns cultural association.
Boyer has experience in assistance in prisons, but also in humanitarian crises. For people with psychiatric disorders, she says, “the situation can be four times more stressful than for others.” “They need their routine, knowing where the bathroom is, when to eat. Unknown faces, mine too no matter how much I smile at them, make them feel uncomfortable”. Boyer remembers the arrival of the patients from Severodonetsk and how many insisted with the same question: where were they going?
Kiril Dovzhik is a twenty-something who has been at the Lviv railway station for four days serving as a volunteer of the Territorial Defense Service, in the department of reservists and volunteers of Ukraine. He is from Zaporizhia, where he worked as a Latin dance teacher. In that city and its region clashes are taking place between the Ukrainian Army and the invader. That is why he decided to move with his mother to the West, to a safer area. Thousands of civilians from Mariupol, the city hardest hit by the war, have been moving to Zaporizhia in recent days. Dovzhik explains that the testimonies of the displaced from Mariupol arriving in Lviv are discouraging; he cites the case of a family who told him how they tried to save their house from fire in a bucket bombardment. But Dovhzik confirms that so far he had not witnessed anything like this entourage from the Severodonetsk psychiatric center: “Think that I am a professional dancer, before the war I used to teach chachachá or tango; It’s hard to be prepared for something like that.”
The relatives of the nurses also travel with the interns. Two teenage sisters were waiting for the departure of the buses with a cage in which they kept their pets, two rats. Some patient asked to pet the animals and they took them out of the cage. Shapovalova was awaited in Lviv by her granddaughter and her parents. They had moved out of Donbas when the 2014 war broke out between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian government. The girl was then 10 years old, now she is 18. She accompanies her grandmother by making calls or translating from Ukrainian to English. Her name, she says, is Dasha, but her mother corrects her: her name is Daryna, “the Dasha thing is over”. Dasha is the Russian diminutive of her name. They are from a region in Donbas where Russian is the main language of the local population. “Now they don’t want to know anything about Russian or Russia anymore,” says Daryna, formerly Dasha.
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