One Ukrainian Doctor’s War: At a Kyiv Hospital During the Bombings
Taisiia Bykova, a young pediatric doctor in Kyiv, spoke with Human Rights First’s Senior Advisor Brian Dooley about working at the city’s children’s hospital during the Russian bombardments despite her own family’s objections.
When did you first decide to become a doctor?
I was a 15 year-old schoolgirl in 10th class at the time of the Maidan Revolution in 2014, but even then I was bringing medical supplies to the protestors and even bandaging their wounds. I knew then I never wanted to be anything else but a doctor. Then when I left school there were six long, bloody difficult years of med school. I found it really hard mentally -- there was still a Soviet-type mentality that treated you as just part of a system. I struggled sometimes honestly but I graduated and started as a pediatrician.
Where were you when the war started?
The Russians invaded the day after my 24th birthday. I was in Kyiv with my boyfriend and when I heard the bombs hit the city early that morning and my first reaction was to go to the hospital to help. I went and stayed working there for two weeks during the attacks. Then I had to leave to evacuate my parents and my 16 year-old sister to western Ukraine because Russian troops had got to within three miles of their house.
You returned to Kyiv? Despite the danger?
Yes, I realized the hospital was short of doctors, and I specialize in treating newborn babies. Babies don’t stop being born just because there’s a war, so I went back. I knew my mother didn’t want me to go, so I didn’t tell her where I was going. My boyfriend didn’t either, and I threatened to break off our engagement over it. I was at his place, so I climbed out the window and got on the train to Kyiv. I’ve taken a medical oath, and I had to go. I wanted to serve my country, to be there for the patients.
We were scared at the hospital but during the attacks we made jokes, and got through it with irony and humor. I was happy to be with my colleagues. We and the patients slept in the basement or even upstairs in the corridors to be a bit protected from the bombs.
We adjusted to the new reality; we had to.
Normally we have about 20 to 30 babies born in the hospital every week, and it dropped a bit, but still about 10 to 20 a week. Some were born during the bombings, and some were complicated with C-sections and other procedures.
How long did that go on for?
A few more weeks. I mean the Second World War was five years, this was only months. The hospital was pretty well equipped - we knew that the invasion was coming and stocked up pretty well.
The Russians left Kyiv about April 2, and things started to slowly go back to normal. We have a walk-in clinic again now.
What happens now?
Things are returning to how they were, bit by bit. We specialize in difficult pregnancies and children with complicated medical issues so women from many parts of the country come to us for treatment, and that’s starting to happen again. It’s not normal yet, the country is still at war, but we’re treating more people again.
At Easter [April 17] I told my mum where I really was. She took it okay, a bit sad and worried but okay. My boyfriend and I figured things out and we’re getting married in the next couple of months.
I know I’ll always be a doctor, I can’t imagine being anything else. And it’s my way to serve the country, to build a stronger Ukraine.