Patients dodge bullets to reach Grozny's last hospital

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The Independent Online
There is only one working hospital left in the war-torn city, Hospital No 3, a ramshackle building with no running water and only a skeleton staff.

It lies on the north-west edge of the city. The shelling is sporadic compared to the centre of town, where the bombardment is constant. But people bringing patients to the hospital have to run a gauntlet of bullets from nearby Russian posts, and shells pitched from tank positions on the hills opposite.

The chief surgeon, Mikhail Davidov, arrived in a truck with medical supplies just after several loud explosions shook the windows of his hospital, shattering those of one building.

One, called a "cassette bomb", floated down on a parachute before bursting in the air, throwing out small metal bombs which exploded only 100m from the hospital. Mr Davidov showed little surprise: "We worked through the war from 1994 under this sort of shelling. While we have electricity, we can continue operations. There is a Latin saying that goes, 'While I live, I hope.' If I did not hope, I would have left long ago."

He looked out of the window with a blank stare. Heavier shelling was pounding apartment buildings 500m away, puffs of smoke rising as the missiles hit their targets. He still had a generator but no telephone or radio contact with the outside world. Medical supplies were low and they were reduced to fetching water in drums from a kilometre away.

Almost 70 patients had passed through the hospital in six days of fighting, nurses said, including several children hit by sniper bullets. One girl, aged three, hit in the head by a sniper bullet while her family tried to flee the city in their car, was among them. "Her whole skull was shattered. There was nothing to do, but she lived for 12 hours," Mr Davidov said.

Ruslan Aslakhanov, a thin 16-year-old boy who looked much younger, was shot through the chest only inches from his heart. It was also a sniper from the nearby Russian post, he said.

Several other patients had been shot while trying to flee the city in cars last week. Ruslan Sadayev, 20, was shot in the back and the foot, as he approached a post with a crowd of refugees. "The soldiers came running up. I asked them, 'Why did you shoot?' They replied, 'Orders. Shut up, or we'll set fire to you as well,'" Mr Sadayev said.

"Their aim is to kill Chechen people, or anyone who lives in Chechnya. You can see from the wounds, they want to kill civilians. The snipers sit up on the roofs. I feel rage when I see their work," the surgeon said.

Mr Davidov's immediate concern was how to cope if patients with worse injuries arrived. "I am the only surgeon here," he said. "If they brought in heavily wounded people, it would be really difficult. We do not have an anaesthetist and the nurses have been working round the clock for three days."

A worker for the aid agency Medecins sans Frontieresbrought bad news from the city. All the big hospitals in the centre and south of Grozny were out of action. They had been evacuated and had probably been destroyed.

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