- Центр журналистских расследований - https://investigator.org.ua/en -

Kherson Region under Occupation: Drug Shortage and Permanent Threat to Life 

Kherson inhabitants ran into the absence of vital drugs since the first days of full scale Russian invasion. As an occupant, the Russian Federation is obliged to satisfy vital needs of people living on occupied territory. On the contrary, Russian occupants created the shortage of everything – from drugs to food. Their goal is to make disloyal population totally dependent upon occupants’ will. They routinely put people’s life under direct threat. And it is not a metaphor… 

Svitlana Petrenko, an inhabitant of village in Beryslav territorial community, lost her father as he could not continue his medical treatment with necessary drugs (for security reasons, all names are changed – ed.).

“I’ve got many children but we also cared about our old and sick parents. They lived with us. We spent the first week of occupation in our village. We hided in the bomb shelter of a kindergarten from the constant Russian shelling from the side of Nova Kakhovka, it’s the opposite side of the Kakhovka Reservoir. Children were under heavy psychological stress. Food products in village shops were almost over. Gas stations were getting empty. That is why we had to leave our native Beryslav raion at the beginning of March and go abroad. The father categorically refused leaving the village. We left him and my mother with my mother-in-law. We kept communicating by phone, I made all necessary payments. But then my father committed suicide on the 20th of June”, Svitlana told. 

As she said it happened when the father ran out of drugs prescribed by a doctor. He was 82 years old and suffered from psychological disorder. He could not cope without drugs. 

“We lost mobile connection with him after May 30. We were not able to call him, talk and calm down. Then, Internet connection also disappeared and he could not receive pension from his bank card. As an outcome, he got depressed and committed suicide… We could not attend his funeral… because of this damned war”, Svitlana added. 

“Drugs from asphalt” will not help all people 

People living in rural communities are cut from the medical assistance. Valentyna Semenivna, pensioner from Tokarivka village in Darjivka rural council of Kherson raion, is among them. She suffers from sugar diabetes and should always take drugs. 

“Before Russian invasion, I visited a hospital in Kherson, it is approximately 40 km from our village. I had never any problems with drugs or medical treatment. But occupants set up many checkpoints on the way to oblast center since the beginning of March. They do not let through many local inhabitants. We do not know the reason. That is why I cannot send my husband or friends to Kherson for drugs. It seems I will have to die”, as she told her story. 

Olena Ivanivna, pensioner from Kakhovka, cannot find necessary drugs for her relative suffering from psychic disorders.  As she says, he needs carbamazepine, an anticonvulsant medication used in the treatment of epilepsy. She fails to find it. She addressed traders who bring drugs from Crimea and sell them at the local market. They were not able to find even analogues. 

Local doctors confirm serious problems with the supply of drugs. As they say, people have to buy drugs at street markets and order them from dubious suppliers. Drugs are sold “from asphalt” (street markets), from cars. They are sold under burning sun, under unsanitary conditions and at very high prices. 

Photo: Suspilne. Kherson.

“It is far more likely to find tablets than drugs in other forms. It is very difficult to find injections. Recently, I was approached by the patient whom I prescribed seven vital and quite specific drugs. She could find only five drugs. By the way, Russian occupants keep saying that “Russia is already here”. But what is the use of such “country” if people cannot find the most vital products”, as one doctor from Nova Kakhovka anonymously told us. 

“I do not know how people would survive without help of Ukrainian volunteers as Russians do not care about drug supply at all. Russian occupants invited dubious traders who bring everything from Crimea and sell drugs in confiscated drugstores at very high prices. All assistance to the people provided by representatives of occupation “administration” is about empty promises: “We will bring everything you need”. I’ve got an impression that Russians do not have sufficient resources to supply all necessary drugs to local people and hospitals. They’ve got nothing. As long as Russians will stay here, nothing will change”, as the head of department at Nova Kakhovka central hospital said. 

Recently, occupants declared that medical treatment would be free of charge on the territory of temporarily occupied Kherson oblast. Local people say it is not true. As the pensioner from Skadovsk raion told CJI, her husband had to pay around 10 thousand UAH for urgent surgery and drugs in the middle of July. 

How drugs are sold now in Kherson oblast. Photo: Suspilne. Kherson.

Prices on drugs are “reaching the sky”

In accordance with the Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, the occupying power is obliged to ensure necessary medical assistance for civil population. It means Russia must ensure that medical establishments work and provide necessary services to patients and drugstores are open and supply necessary drugs to civilians on temporarily occupied territories. 

However, as an outcome of the Russian invasion, there is a shortage of drugs as well as problems with mobile communication in Kherson oblast. Many people are not able to call an ambulance or call their doctor. Residents of Kakhovka raion told that they had to find somehow a car and bring their sick relatives directly to a hospital. But there is no guarantee they will find necessary specialist in a hospital as many doctors left Kherson oblast fearing permanent terror, torture, killings and abduction. 

The desperate search for necessary drugs is an everyday challenge for local residents. 

“In March, our drugstores closed. Pasta and ketchup were sold there. Then, Russian occupants opened several drugstores. They sold only drugs brought from Crimea. People took a queue from midnight. I remember when I went to the drugstore near our central shopping mall around 6 a.m. in June. There were already thirty people in a queue and people kept coming. Now I do not see such long queues but necessary drugs are still not sold! Though, there are more drugs from Crimea than before”, as Khakovka resident reported. 

Drugstore in Kakhovka, April 2022. Photo: social networks

The supply of drugs is relatively good in Nyzhni Sirohozy community of Henichesk raion. As local residents say it was launched by local volunteers and entrepreneurs. 

“People would like to order Ukrainian drugs which are brought from Zaporizhzhia. They are far less expensive than their Russian analogues brought from Crimea. But you should wait the supply of drugs from territories controlled by Ukraine for 10-14 days. Those who need drugs urgently should go to Melitopol. But this option is the most expensive”, as a resident of Nyzhni Sirohozy told us. 

Recently, local media “Nyzhni Sirogozy.City” compared prices on Russian drugs brought to the settlement with prices in drugstores on the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government. The difference is from 10 to 25 times! For example, Ukrainian drug “Enalapril 5” costs 10 UAH whereas its price is 100 UAH in Nyzhni Sirogozy; Ukrainian drug “Etap 10” costs 25 UAH but the price of its Russian analogue is 180 UAH in the settlement; “Metformin-Arterium 1000” is sold for 10 UAH on Ukrainian territory whereas its price is up to 250 UAH on the territory occupied by Russians. 

“The situation with drugs in Kherson oblast is very difficult and critical, as Olen Kulygina, volunteer from Lviv, states. – There is a catastrophic shortage of vital drugs on the territory temporarily occupied by Russia: insulin, drugs to treat high blood pressure or even anti-allergy drugs. Recently, many various drugs were brought from Russia there but local residents do not know how to use them. Prices are so high that people cannot afford buying them. That is why they are looking for volunteers and submit them their requests for necessary drugs. We receive many requests. The demand is growing for diapers for adults, drugs for people with psychic disorders, cancer or diabetes”. 

Olena Kulygina. Photo: Facebook

As she says, drugs to Kherson oblast are transferred from Zaporizhzhia. But their transportation is delayed for two weeks or even more as cars have to wait in queues at numerous checkpoints. This is the reason volunteers are not able to supply drugs with special storage conditions. Then, Russian occupants thoroughly check all drugs, and there is no guarantee they will let them go to people in need. Volunteers do their best to minimize these risks: they pack drugs in transparent bags and submit lists of drugs and hospitals, their recipients. 

In July, occupants closed several times entrance and exit of Kherson oblast. It means that patients on temporarily occupied territories had to wait for their drugs. 

Volunteer Olena cares about supply of drugs to Kherson oblast as she was born in Nova Kakhovka and lived there for her first 25 years. 

“We try to supply drugs not only to cities but also to villages of Kherson oblast. The majority of drugs are given to us by international charitable organizations and foundations. We also buy them by contributions of Ukrainian philanthropists. We look for necessary drugs in drugstores. When I tell them that we buy drugs for people on occupied territories, drugstore owners give us discounts. It is true even about very strong painkillers or drugs for people with psychic disorders”, Olena Kulygina says. 

Olena Kulygina. Photo: Facebook

Kherson drugstores under the control of Russian Federal Security Service 

Russian occupants blocked the supply of drugs to occupied Kherson oblast and confiscated \ stole Ukrainian drugstores and looted drug reserves at the same time. 

For example, they confiscated drugstore network “Luvina” in Kakhovka after its owner refused cooperating with invaders. Occupants replaced the key manager and personnel of the network. Natalia Bizhan, the deputy of Kakhovka City Council from “Opposition Platform – for Life” political party, started selling dubious Russian drugs from Crimea in one “Luvina” drugstore in the city center. She does not have necessary educational background (before the Russian invasion, she worked as a nurse in municipal healthcare institution). 

Pavlo Filipchuk, “gauleiter” of Kakhovka, standing near the first confiscated city drugstore. Photo: video screenshot

The local realtor was appointed by occupants as the “supervisor” of the drugstore network. But its new real “owners” are Russian occupants themselves. 

The same situation happened in Kherson with local drugstore network “Avias-Farma” and central municipal drugstores. Volodymyr Saldo, collaborator appointed by occupants, introduced “temporary administration” for their management on May 23. LLC “Renessance Farma” from Mytyshy, the city near Moscow, was appointed as the “temporary administrator”. Ruslan Kalmykbetov, the commercial director of this company, was given powers of the “manager” of Kherson municipal drugstores. 

Igor Nelubov is the founder and head of LLC “Renessance Farma” since April 2022. In accordance with the data of “Most” media, he is acting on behalf of Mazarani family connected with the Moscow office of the Russian Federal Security Service. 

It means that local drugstores stolen from Ukrainian company will be controlled by people connected with Russian Federal Security Service and other Russian governmental bodies. 

Massive closure of drugstores in Kherson oblast is confirmed by the Ministry of Healthcare of Ukraine. In accordance with their data, 18 local drugstores stopped their work during the period from February 24 till July 13. 

“Overall, 56 drugstores temporarily stopped wholesale and retail sale of drugs. It means that the network of drugstores selling drugs to population drastically reduced. Their majority is closed, there is no supply of drugs, their personnel is evacuated”, the press office of the Ministry informed the CJI. 

«Occupants loot hospitals and steal their drugs” 

Hospitals encounter serious problems after the Russian invasion. Over 400 hospitals are situated on temporarily occupied territories; their significant part is Kherson oblast.

Hospitals keep delivering medical assistance to patients whereas doctors receive salary from the Ukrainian budget, as Oleksii Yaremenko, Deputy Minister of Healthcare of Ukraine, reports. According to his information, over 4 billion UAH were transferred to Ukrainian hospitals on occupied territories since the beginning of the Russian invasion. 

“Our doctors work there and they take care of our Ukrainian patients. Our principal position is to support our people wherever they are. Today we have communication with majority of healthcare institutions on the occupied territory. Any institution with which there is a communication receives monthly 1 \12 part of the annual amount of contract with this institution, in accordance with the governmental Program of medical guarantees”, Oleksii Yaremenko said. 

However, the Ministry recognizes that the supply of drugs to temporarily occupied regions is one of the most urgent problems. Russian occupants steal and take away drugs bought by the Ukrainian government from occupied territories, as Viktor Lyashko, the Minister of Healthcare of Ukraine, reported at the beginning of July. The Russian Federation did not open any humanitarian corridor for the supply of drugs there. As an outcome, Ukrainians did not receive drugs prescribed within governmental program “Available Medicines”. 

The Ministry states that it receives regularly information about problems with an access to drugs on temporarily occupied territories. Facts are reported about crimes against humanity, war crimes etc. Expensive equipment and drugs are stolen from Ukrainian hospitals and transported outside Ukraine. The destination is unknown. 

Viktor Lyashko believes that Russian occupants use difficulties in the supply of drugs and drug shortages to force inhabitants of Kherson to cooperate with occupation authorities. To his mind, critical situation with drugs in Kherson oblast is the form of Russian terrorism against civilian population. Ukraine does have sufficient drug reserves to satisfy the demand as soon as occupants will open “green corridor”. 

“Terrorist country violates the Geneva Convention and steals drugs with high effectiveness. I have facts when they stole drugs supplied by Ukraine to treat strokes and heart attacks. They bring them to the Russian Federation. On the other hand, they try to supply Russian drugs of dubious quality”, Viktor Lyashko added. 

Material is prepared by non-profit “Information press center” within IWPR project under the support of the European Union and the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.