Mothers with newborns, a woman with heart disease and elderly people who could not walk alone were rushed to the basement of a hospital in Mykolaiv on Sunday night as the booming bang of artillery got closer.
They made it to the shelter just in time. Five minutes after patients and staff crowded into the narrow underground corridor, a suspected cluster munition landed right next to the building. The explosion shattered almost all windows.
It was an eventful first night for Bohdan, who was born in the makeshift bomb shelter after his mother Vitalina and others from the maternity ward made the most harrowing journey to safety from the top floor of the hospital.
“The Russians are animals; there is no other explanation,” said Bohdan’s grandmother, Vlada. For security reasons, the family did not want to give their last names.
Vlada cried as she hugged her daughter and met Bohdan for the first time. He slept with a pacifier in his mouth. In the small room in the basement, three other women were sitting on cots with their babies.
Hospitals in Ukraine are increasingly being hit by artillery and air strikes. The World Health Organization said it had verified 82 health-care attacks since Russia invaded Ukraine through March 30, killing 72 and injuring 43.
No one was injured in the attack at Mykolayiv City Hospital No. 5. As nurses and volunteers went from one ward to the next to sweep up broken glass, their emotions ranged from despair to anger. One employee cried as she opened the door to her former lab. The window glass was gone. The glass in the cupboards was also shattered.
“Gosh, can this end already?” said Lyubov Byaluk, a nurse. “What did we do anyway? We never attacked anyone.”
The heavy shelling across Mykolaiv on Sunday – which killed 10 people and wounded 46, according to Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych – comes as the war with Russia could shift more towards eastern and southern Ukraine. Moscow has withdrawn its forces from areas north of Kyiv, but its military has continued heavy fighting in the eastern Donbass region and along the front line east of Mykolaiv.
Mykolayiv, near Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, was a key battlefield: Ukrainian forces held back Russian troops here, delaying any possible attack on Odessa, the country’s largest port city, 70 miles southwest. But the Russians remain present in the neighboring Kherson region, just 50 miles to the east.
Vitaliy Kim, governor of Mykolaiv region, told a press conference on Monday that Russian projectiles hit more than 2,000 buildings – including houses, hospitals and other health facilities. At least 161 people were killed in the strikes, including six children, he said.
Kim said the Russian attacks were an “attempt to scare residents” but the situation was “under control”. He said no military installations had been hit. Last week a rocket hit a main government building in the city center, killing at least 36 people and injuring others.
The part of Mykolaiv Hospital farthest from where the shell landed suffered less damage, so some patients were transferred to that wing. Others were evacuated to other hospitals. In the basement, an elderly woman was lying on a mat on the floor. She had to be carried downstairs Sunday night.
Liuba, who had been taken to the hospital with chest pains and heart problems, lay on a bunk in the hallway.
She held up a fist to illustrate the state of her heart now after a night she described as “very, very scary”. Upstairs, her sons helped with the considerable cleanup. Then she wanted to go home, even if it was against the doctor’s orders.
“I’m too scared to stay here or go to another hospital,” she said.