war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russian invaders destroy Ukrainian hospitals, plundering medical equipment and abducting medical staff

Halya Coynash

Evacuation after Russian shelling of the Severodonetsk Children’s Hospital on 21 March Photo Serhiy Haidai

As of 4 May, the Russian invaders had bombed, shelled or otherwise damaged 400 Ukrainian medical institutions, with 40 of these totally destroyed.  Nor do the crimes end there, as Russia has also plundered hospitals, taking away sophisticated medical equipment, as well as ‘forcibly mobilizing’ medical staff.

In reporting the damage to healthcare institutions, Ukraine’s Health Ministry stressed that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have been deprived of proper access to vital health care.  In many areas either on or near the frontline, there are also problems with access to medicines.  This is while the Russian military are also blocking humanitarian convoys which would bring medication to areas currently under Russian occupation.

On 3 May, the Russians destroyed a 19th century gem of Belgium architectural heritage in Lysychansk (Luhansk oblast), housing a tuberculosis hospital.  As Serhiy Haidai, the Luhansk Regional Governor, noted bitterly, the building had survived two world wars, only to be destroyed by the Russian invaders in the twenty first century.  The invaders “are hunting ‘strategic sites’, so they deliberately fired at a medical establishment.”.  Haidai reports that, after just over two months since Russia’s full-scale invasion, not one hospital or clinic has been left intact.  The Russian’s aim, he adds, is “total destruction”.   

It should be stressed that Russia has destroyed all of these healthcare institutions while systematically bombing and shelling civilian targets, causing, at very least, injuries that need to be treated.  On 4 May alone, there were 24 attacks on apartment blocks in different parts of the Luhansk oblast.  Five civilians are known to have been killed, but the final number is very likely to be higher. 

Ukraine’s Military Intelligence [HUR] reported on 1 May that the invaders are destroying medical infrastructure on areas they have seized, leaving Ukrainian citizens effectively cut off from healthcare services.   They too mentioned that the Russians are stopping medication being delivered to these areas from government-controlled territory.

All equipment provided to the infectious diseases department in Starobilsk (Luhansk oblast) since 2014, in accordance with programs from international donors and the Ukrainian government, have been taken away.”  The equipment that the Russians have plundered included ventilators which are crucial in treating covid patients.

HUR reports also that in Vovchansk (Kharkiv oblast), the invaders have thrown patients of the regional tuberculosis hospital suffering from open forms of tuberculosis out onto the street.   The buildings used to treat infectious diseases have instead been filled with wounded Russian soldiers, with the medical personnel forced to care for enemy forces.  “Furthermore, all medical workers undergo a lie detector test, with those failing this forcibly sent to the frontline.”

All hospitals in Balakliia (Kharkiv oblast) are also full of wounded Russians, with the Ukrainian medical personnel forced to treat them, while local residents are left without healthcare.

On 23 April, HUR reported that Russia had begun forcibly ‘mobilizing’ medical personnel from occupied parts of the Zaporizhzhia, Kherson and Kharkiv oblasts.  In Vovchansk, for example, junior medical workers had been forcibly sent to the frontline to provide primary medical aid to wounded Russian soldiers and had been told they would be shot if they refused.

Ukrainian medical personnel from the Central District Hospital in Polohy (Zaporizhzhia oblast) have also been stopped from treating civilians, while the Russians use hospital premises as a warehouse for ammunition.

Staff at two hospitals in Kherson oblast (Oleshkivka District Hospital and Hola Prystan Municipal Hospital) are also prevented from treating the local population, or from leaving for government-controlled Ukraine.


On 5 May, the Mariupol City Council posted a photo of workers removing the sign for Mariupol in two languages, Ukrainian and English, replacing it with one in only Russian.  This, presumably, is so that Russian leader Vladimir Putin can boast of ‘victory’ in taking the city that Russia has relentlessly bombed, shelled and destroyed over the past two months.  The city authorities speak of 20 thousand dead, although it is probably impossible to accurately estimate the real figure, especially while Russia is believed to be using not only mass graves, but also mobile crematoria.

It seems clear that Russia wanted to create a humanitarian crisis in Mariupol.  Its relentless airstrikes and shelling targeted and destroyed most of the city’s infrastructure, leaving the city’s population without heating, electricity and running water, while humanitarian corridors were consistently blocked. 

All of this makes it so shocking that Russia is now using its propaganda machine to try to rewrite the facts, including over its bombing of the children’s and maternity hospital in Mariupol on 9 March.  This is despite Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov having essentially admitted that the bombing was deliberate, while claiming falsely that the hospital had been commandeered by Azov fighters and was not serving as a hospital.  Russia will continue the lies, as it has over the downing of MH17 by a Russian Buk missile,  however there is simply too much video footage, photographs and witness testimony  confirming, not only that the Russians bombed the maternity hospital, but that they later subjected medical staff and the hospital to attack.  Nor was the maternity hospital the only such target.   This was also only one of many crimes.  Pavlo Kyrylenko, Head of the Donetsk Regional Military Administration, reported on 15 March that the staff and patients of the Regional Intensive Care Hospital in Mariupol had been taken hostage, together with civilians who had been forced into the hospital and were told they’d be shot if they tried to flee. 

On 26 March, the Russians reportedly took doctors and patients by force from the Municipal Hospital No. 1, where they and others had been seeking shelter from the bombing and shelling.  

On 6 April, Vadym Boichenko, Mayor of Mariupol reported that 50 people had been burned alive from the bombing of hospitals.

Russia is presently storming Azovstal, having already bombed the part of the steel factory in Mariupol being used as an already inadequate hospital for wounded Ukrainian soldiers. 

All of the above is in flagrant violation of international law which clearly stipulates that any hospital that is being used to treat patients (and not commandeered for non-medical purposes) is a protected building.  Even had none of the above-mentioned hospitals been deliberately targeted, Russia would still be committing war crimes since it  is very clearly aiming its bombs and shelling at civilians. 

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