Ukraine conflict hampers recovery of sick children

Sat Oct 11, 2014 2:21pm EDT
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By Gabriela Baczynska

DONETSK Ukraine (Reuters) - Maria, a nine-year-old girl suffering from cerebral palsy, was able to stand and walk unsteadily on her own before the outbreak of armed conflict between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Now, after five months of shelling in and around her hometown of Yasynuvata, a strategic rail hub that has changed hands several times during the conflict, her condition has deteriorated as stress has stiffened her muscles and crippled her posture. She can no longer stand unsupported.

"Kids like Maria are much more afraid than others," said Maria's grandmother Tamara, who brought the girl through fighting and roadblocks for treatment in Donetsk, the region's largest city and now the separatists' main stronghold.

"All this bombing has pushed her recovery back by about a year and a half," she said, cradling Maria in her arms.

Maria is among about 30 young patients undergoing treatment in the half-full Donetsk clinic which specializes in children's neurological disorders. It is now awaiting the arrival of a boy who needs to learn how to walk again after sustaining shrapnel wounds that damaged his spine.

He is one of the more than 8,700 people to have been wounded in the conflict which erupted in east Ukraine in April and which has so far killed more than 3,660 people, according to the United Nations.

Many schools, hospitals and other public institutions are closed after being hit by shelling or because of nearby fighting that has meant it is too dangerous to continue operating.

The clinic also suffers from an acute shortage of money in rebel-held territory, where many public-sector workers no longer receive salaries from Kiev and the separatists' self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" (DNR) has virtually no resources to make up for the shortfall.   Continued...

Viktoria holds her daughter Stephanya, aged one year and three months, at a clinic which specialises in children's neurological disorders in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, October 10, 2014. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov