Pregnant Women in Russia’s Crosshairs as Health Care Comes Under Attack in Ukraine 

As health care facilities are increasingly being targeted in Russia’s war on Ukraine, the U.N. Population Fund said Thursday that about 80,000 women are due to give birth in the coming three months and must be protected.

“All these women who are giving birth in makeshift shelters, in subway stations, in the basements of buildings — oftentimes without skilled attendants — all of these women are also casualties of war,” said Jaime Nadal, the U.N. Population Fund’s representative in Ukraine.

Nadal told reporters in a briefing call that since Russia’s invasion began in the early hours of February 24 through March 7, 4,311 women are known to have given birth. He spoke from inside the country, where UNFPA is continuing to assist women and girls through its network of community-based facilities.

On Wednesday, horrific pictures and video showed the destruction of a maternity hospital in the southern port city of Mariupol. Ukrainian officials blamed a Russian airstrike for the carnage, which they said killed three people, including a child, and wounded several others, among them pregnant women.

Other sites struck

UNFPA’s Nadal said the maternity hospital at Mariupol is not the only one that has been hit during two weeks of hostilities.

“In Zhytomir the maternity was completely destroyed,” he said of a facility about 200 kilometers west of the capital, Kyiv. “In one of the areas of Kharkiv, that has the largest maternity, the area was completely shelled and the maternity was also destroyed.”

Kharkiv is located in the country’s northeast.

Nadal praised Ukraine’s health care workers as “extremely committed” for staying to take care of their patients despite constant danger. He said the country has 69 maternity and perinatal centers and 300 hospitals.

The World Health Organization said Thursday that it has verified 26 attacks on health care in Ukraine, including 21 attacks that have impacted health care facilities and eight attacks on medical workers. The WHO says 12 people have died as a result.

Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador denied in a Twitter post Wednesday that the facility in Mariupol was an active maternity hospital and accused Ukrainian “radicals” of having taken it over, claiming this “is how #Fakenews is born.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Thursday that a team of U.N. human rights monitors on the ground in Ukraine “has verified and documented what they described as an indiscriminate airstrike on the hospital, and that the hospital was serving women and children at the time.”

Nadal said UNFPA is also working to protect women and girls in Ukraine, millions of whom are on the move seeking safety from exploitation, trafficking and sexual violence.

The agency, which has worked in Ukraine for years, has a network of 65 facilities including shelters and crisis rooms, but only 29 are currently functioning. UNFPA has lost contact with 16 facilities since the war started, and another 13 are not operating, possibly because of damage.

Despite operating challenges, UNFPA is scaling up and has supplies in Poland ready to come into Ukraine once reliable humanitarian corridors are running. Nadal said supplies include birthing kits, post-rape treatment kits, contraception and feminine hygiene kits.

Humanitarian crisis

The humanitarian situation in Ukraine is growing more serious by the day. The United Nations says 12 million people — nearly 30% of the population — require urgent humanitarian assistance.

The World Food Program is scaling up to assist up to 3.1 million people in cities inside Ukraine with bulk food, bread and food rations.

The U.N. human rights office has verified the killing of at least 549 civilians since the invasion began and 957 injuries. It says the true number is likely much higher.

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