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Fighting In Eastern Ukraine Puts Hospitals Under Fire

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We've been reporting on the horrific toll the fighting in eastern Ukraine is taking on civilians there. Yesterday, in the separatist-held city of Donetsk, artillery fire hit a hospital, and reports say five people were killed. As it does in many conflict zones, the medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders is providing health care in eastern Ukraine. We asked Andrea Ciocca, the group's regional director in Donetsk, what happened at that hospital.

ANDREA CIOCCA: At around midday, some mortar shots hit this hospital. Two people died on the spot, and other injured civilians were brought to a nearby hospital. We got in touch with the medical directors, and they told them that they were in need of first support. So we quickly sent them some medical equipment to be able to treat these patients.

GREENE: And I guess I wonder - I mean, you know, Russian backed-separatists are in control of this city, Donetsk. We might never really know which side hit this hospital or if it was a mistake or targeted, but what does this tell us about the conflict there?

CIOCCA: Yeah, you're right. Every time there's an incident like this and every time civilians are involved, everyone denies responsibility, and every party accuses the other one. Unfortunately, civilians are caught in the middle of the fire. Oftentimes, even schools and hospitals, which should be sanctuaries, are also hit. This makes life for those brave doctors even more at risk and more difficult.

GREENE: And what about for you? I mean, Doctors Without Borders - obviously you have worked in some of the world's most dangerous places. How does eastern Ukraine compare?

CIOCCA: It's always difficult comparing one war situation to another one. What we see here is supply of drugs and medicines as well as food is practically reduced. And especially the vulnerable part of the population so pensioners - people without a house, people with mental or physical disabilities - all these people that were taken care of by social services before the conflict are now left by themselves. Pensions are not paid any more, so it's very difficult for old people to try to put some food on the table or to seek for medical care when they need it.

GREENE: We hear so much about this conflict just tearing apart a place where people lived together peacefully for so long. As you spend a lot of time here, is there one day or one memory that sort of sticks with you that you feel like tells the story of the situation?

CIOCCA: It's clear that the tensions that fueled the uprise since the beginning were very - based on ideology. But what I can see now every day when we go to people and we try to talk to our patients is that whatever was the reason for starting this conflict, now nobody wants the war anymore. All people want now is to go back to a normal life and to be able to live their life peacefully.

GREENE: Andrea Ciocca is the regional coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in eastern Ukraine. And he joined us on the line from the city of Donetsk. Thanks so much for your time this morning.

CIOCCA: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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