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Surgeons in Ukraine struggle to operate when power goes out

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KYIV, Ukraine – The surgeons had made the long incision in the center of the child’s chest, cutting the sternum to spread the ribcage and reach the heart when the lights went out at the Kyiv Heart Institute.

Generators kicked in to keep life support equipment running on Wednesday night, while nurses and surgical assistants held flashlights over the operating table and guided the surgeons as they cut and cut as they tried to save a life in the most trying circumstances.

“The electricity went completely off in the operating room,” said Borys Todurov, the institute’s director, who posted a video of the procedure online to illustrate the difficulties doctors face.

“So far we’re on our own,” he said. “But every hour gets harder. There has been no water for several hours. We will continue to perform only emergency operations.”

Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s energy grid are taking an increasing toll on the country as the damage mounts. After each strike, repairs become more challenging, blackouts can last longer, and the danger to the public increases.

The scene at the Kiev hospital is reminiscent of those in medical facilities across the country, a vivid illustration of the cascading toll Russia’s attacks are taking on civilians far from the front lines.

Two kidney transplants were performed at the Cherkasy Regional Cancer Center in central Ukraine when the lights went out, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, said on the Telegram messaging app. The generators were on and the transplants were successful, he said.

“Ukrainian doctors are invincible!” he said.

In the central city of Dnipro, an aviation and industrial center with a population of about a million people, the strikes caused the Mechnikov Hospital to lose power, a first since the start of the war, doctors said.

“We’ve been preparing for this moment for two years,” said one doctor, who asked for anonymity because the doctor was not authorized to speak to the news media.

The hospital’s ICU and operating rooms run on generators, the doctor added, but the living quarters are without power.

Christopher Stokes, the head of Doctors Without Borders in Ukraine, said the attacks on infrastructure “put millions of civilians at risk”. They can feed a vicious circle in which people living without heating and clean water are more likely to receive medical care, but that care itself is more difficult to provide.

“Power cuts and water cuts will also affect people’s access to health care as hospitals and health centers find it difficult to function,” he said.

At the Kiev hospital, surgeons turned on headlamps and continued working in the dark. The operation was a success, Mr. Todurov said.

“Thanks to all employees for their well-coordinated and selfless work,” he said. “In this unusual situation, we have not lost a single patient.”

Marc Santora reported from Kiev, and Thomas Gibbons Neff from Dnipro, Ukraine. Natalia Yermak contributed reporting from Dnipro.

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