COVID-19 has killed millions around the world and has caused significant damage to nearly every part of the world where humanity has left its mark. However, it seems Ukraine has found a way to weaponize the fear against it to stop Russia from taking over a hospital.
Staff at a hospital in Kherson, Ukraine, went to great lengths to prevent a Russian takeover during the eight months the city was occupied — including faking a COVID-19 outbreak to stave off troops.
Kherson, a southern port city, was the first major Ukrainian city taken by Russian forces after the invasion in February. The regional capital was held for eight months until Russian officials announced a retreat on November 9, delivering a humiliating blow to President Vladimir Putin’s war effort.
A doctor with the city’s Tropinka Hospital described the lengths he and his colleagues went to in order to prevent the Russians from taking control of the hospital to The Wall Street Journal.
“Our hospital couldn’t become a Russian hospital,” Chief Physician Dr. Leonid Remiga told the Journal. “All the employees felt this way…I couldn’t leave them.”
Within days of the Russian forces invading the city, soldiers showed up to the hospital with the intention of converting it into a military hospital.
Remiga told them the hospital was dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. He donned full protective gear, such as a body suit and foot covers, and the staff had put warning signs up on the hospital walls about COVID-19.
Believing there was an active outbreak, the troops left and the hospital remained in Ukrainian hands.
In another encounter, Remiga told the Journal Russian soldiers ordered him to take down a Ukrainian flag hanging at the hospital, but he refused. He said he told the soldiers they could shoot him if they wanted, but he wouldn’t be removing it.
Remiga’s detailed account of the way he and other hospital staff resisted a Russian takeover of the hospital adds to the stories of Ukrainian resistance that have poured out of Kherson since the retreat earlier this month.
Liberated Kherson is still dealing with the impacts of the war. Ukraine has offered to help citizens evacuate before the winter due to the destruction of the city’s power infrastructure.
Russia has also been striking Kherson from afar, with the latest shelling killing at least 10 civilians and injuring dozens more.
Kelsey Vlamis is a breaking news reporter for Insider, where she also covers stories about the environment, religion, politics, and Indigenous communities. She previously worked on the world news desk at the BBC in London and received a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University. This first appeared in Insider.