Update from Lviv – Matilda’s story

Lviv is a very long way from the frontline in Ukraine’s conflict with Russia. We’re closer to holidaymakers in Krakow than we are soldiers in the trenches of Bakhmut, and when you walk the city streets it’s easy to forget there’s a war on. But if your walk takes you into the local hospital, its impact is clear. 

This time last year I was a burns nurse in Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield. Since last February I’ve been working as a surgical ward nurse at a hospital in Lviv, as part of UK-Med’s country-wide response. A large tertiary hospital in western Ukraine, the hospital has been taking patients from frontline regions since February 2022, rising to the challenge with a huge ‘UNBROKEN’ rehabilitation project.   

Our team pictured outside the UNBROKEN rehabilitation centre where wounded patients receive reconstructive surgery, orthopaedics and robotic prosthetics.

In Ukrainian, ‘unbreakable’ (необ’їжджений ) means just that, but also undefeated or even invincible – making it a popular word for describing what Ukraine aims to be. It’s fantastic to see photos lining the corridors, showing people who’ve been discharged from this programme. However, they don’t capture every part of the patient journey, and there are huge challenges along the way.

Right now, one of the biggest challenges is infection, and the wounds of a patient like Andriy (not real name) are typical of what we’re seeing daily. He was walking down his own street when he was caught between two shells, leaving him with a full thickness burn, an abdominal injury and pieces of shrapnel lodged in his body. His wife was lucky – she was behind him and only suffered a broken arm.

Saving life and limb: UK-Med has sent plastic and reconstructive surgeons to treat the victims of war.

By the time he arrived in Lviv, one of Andriy’s wounds already had a strong smell. Because of the war, we don’t have accurate microbiology results; we don’t have a consistent supply of antibiotics; we don’t have antimicrobial dressings; and we don’t even have a ready supply of gloves, aprons and hand sanitiser to protect our other patients. Andriy, meanwhile, is terrified, in severe pain, and running a temperature.

Overcoming challenges: hospitals are facing disruption to their supply chains creating challenges with medical supplies. Matilda is pictured right, coordinating supplies

From a ward nursing side, I’m supporting the ward staff with wound care, prioritising the limited supply of donated antimicrobial dressings while covering aspects like pain control and taking observations. Between us, we’re also running a training programme to try to make sure our Ukrainian colleagues understand the changes that are happening, giving them the confidence to continue when we leave.

It’s busy, but it’s worth it for patients like Andriy. After multiple surgeries for shrapnel removal, and a course of acetic acid dressings, he was able to be discharged and he and his wife are now starting to build a new life in Lviv.

Unbroken? Not quite, but thanks to the local team and help from UK-Med, definitely on the mend.

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