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Kiev protesters shun state hospitals for volunteer clinics

Source: Reuters - Mon, 27 Jan 2014 15:38 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Reports of night time abductions in Kiev

* Activists shun state hospitals, fearing arrest

* Army of volunteer doctors providing medical care

By Jack Stubbs

KIEV, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Injured anti-government protesters fearing arrest are shunning Kiev's hospitals and choosing to undergo operations in field clinics run by an army of volunteer doctors.

Since clashes between activists and security forces worsened last week, doctors have faced more serious injuries, colds and frostbite from the seering cold escalating to flesh wounds, gas burns and concussions from the violence.

"When I worked in the emergency ward, any injuries caused by suspicious violence had to be reported," said Aleksandr Pyvovarov, 32, a former emergency physician from Kiev.

"The people know this and they would rather get treatment on the streets than go to jail."

Videos posted online on Thursday show police raiding an emergency ward in Kiev and arresting injured activists in their beds. An EU Delegation to Ukraine has expressed concern about "deteriorating Human Rights" in the country.

"Arrests of wounded people in front of clinics... can be accepted under no circumstances," it said in a statement.

Doctors at the hospitals fear losing their jobs if they discuss the arrests, said Pyvovarov who has friends working on the wards.

"Not everybody agrees with these protests," he added. "They think they are criminals making trouble."

Kiev City Police declined to comment.

Pyvovarov is part of a team of ten volunteer doctors based at two medical points at the main flashpoint near Dynamo Kiev football stadium.

Distinguished by red crosses taped on battered plastic helmets, they work on the front line of barricades to provide first aid to injured activists.

Protesters continue to demand the resignation of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich after two months occupying central Kiev. Radical far-right groups took the protests further following the introduction of sweeping anti-protest legislation, and have clashed with police since December 19, to the alarm of Western governments.

"The injuries have got much worse," said Pyvovarov. "We used to be treating colds and hypothermia, now I see stuff straight from a war zone. Flesh wounds, gas burns, shrapnel in the eye and even some amputations."

Protestors accuse police of deliberately aiming rubber bullets at head height, targeting medics on the battlefield and taping nails to stun grenades to create lethal weapons. Fifty percent of patients in the field hospitals are head and face injuries.

Police officers have been hurt at the hands of protestors who hurl rocks and Molotov cocktails across a barricade of burning tyres. "I am officially stating that these are criminals who must answer for their actions," said Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov last week.

MAKESHIFT OPERATING ROOMS

Medics say up to six people have died since clashes last week, three of whom are recognised by the prosecutor's office as having died from gunshot wounds.

Despite this, Pyvovarov said he would only send the most severe cases to a few hospitals with trusted doctors.

Protest groups, known collectively as 'Euromaidan', say officially 30 to 40 activists have been arrested in hospital, but the real number is much higher.

"Medical Point One" is housed in the National Parliamentary Library of Ukraine, metres from some of the fiercest fighting.

Inside, volunteer staff wearing paper gowns and face masks work in shifts to run a trauma unit and operating theatre. Pastel green walls and golden cornices jar with the plastic sheeting underfoot. Bookshelves have been requistioned for medicines and medical supplies donated by the public.

An activist, his faced streaked with dirt, is having his hand bandaged by two nurses. It was badly burnt and cut when a Molotov cocktail exploded in his hand during clashes at the weekend, he said. Now the wound is infected.

"Only idiots...go to the hospitals," he told Reuters. "They take one look at you and call the police," he said, refusing to give his name.

In the main room, desks have been pushed together to form four makeshift operating tables. "It's not much, but it's all we have," said Doctor Oleg Musii, 51, chief co-ordinator of the Euromaidan medical service and president of the Ukrainian Medical Association.

"People come here because they have nowhere else to go."

Musii runs the medical service of around 100 volunteer doctors, nurses and military medics from Kiev House of Trade Unions on Independence Square, where the protest movement has its biggest field hospital.

It was here that medics treated one of two members of the Berkut elite anti-riot unit, who were kidnapped by protesters on Friday.

"We would treat anyone," said Euromaidan activist Sviatoslav Yurash. "They are still Ukrainian citizens." Both officers were released on Saturday. (Reporting and Writing By Jack Stubbs; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Ralph Boulton)

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