Statement by the Board of the European Chapter:

730 days of blood, death, and destruction are surrounding the second anniversary of the Russia war of aggression on Ukraine. Marching towards the third year, the war is still scarring Ukraine and, with it, threatening global peace and security.

From the European chapter of Mayors for Peace, representing European local and regional governments committed to defending peace in our cities and beyond, we express our solidarity with the Ukrainian people. We hope for an end to hostilities, the respect of International law, and the commitment to dialogue, cooperation, and diplomacy in order to ensure a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

We express our concern about Russia’s willingness to resort to nuclear weapons, which would have catastrophic consequences for humanity and the planet. We recall that there is no health care system capable of responding and helping survivors in the aftermath of a nuclear attack.

In agreement with the UN Secretary General’s remarks: “In today’s troubled world, building peace is a conscious, bold and even radical act. It is humanity’s greatest responsibility.” We are committed to working with organisations in the peace movement and civil society in order to end this war and attain a just and lasting peace.

Read Mayors for Peace Joint Appeal here:

Because no story has to be left untold, we would like to commemorate the second anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine war with the words of a young medical student, who has spent a few months volunteering in a hospital in Ukraine. This interview describes his experience in Ukraine, but his story could reflect the daily life of any hospital that operates under violence and conflict.


The war seen through external eyes

His name is Alexander Banchs, a twenty-three years old student who lives in Chicago and spends his summers near Barcelona, where his extended family is from. He has just returned from Ukraine, where he has spent four months cleaning wounds and assisting with surgical operations in a hospital located very near the front line.

Alexander, what motivated you to volunteer in Ukraine?

I wanted a unique experience to help those who really needed it. When I finished college, I had a whole year before medical school, and the war in Ukraine was not nearly at its end. I thought that helping others, even if I was putting myself in danger, was the right thing to do.

Where did you work in Ukraine?

I worked in two different locations. I spent about a month in the cultural city of Lviv, located near the Polish border. There, I worked in a medical rehabilitation centre, where I spent my time with the orthopaedic department. The city of Lviv is located far from the front line. As a result, the centre received and treated the wounded, mainly patients with amputated limbs, who were in need of physical therapy, or needed some more in-depth surgery.

When I arrived to Lviv, I was expecting to see a military city with soldiers and trucks patrolling everywhere, but it was not like this. Life kept going as normal, and it was amazing to see that regardless of what Putin threw their way, they were trying to do their best not to let it affect their lives. This city is a safe haven, especially for the younger population, as it is quite safe and attacks occur less frequently than in other areas.

But realities in Ukraine differ depending on the area. A month after I had arrived, I was offered to work at the anaesthesia department of a much smaller hospital on the outskirts of Dnipro, a city in central Ukraine that is home to almost one million people and that is constantly hit by Russian attacks. Dnipro is close to the front line, and this was noticeable as soon as I set foot on it. Attacks were much more common, and yet its citizens, accustomed to life at the front, continued with their lives while medical staff treated the injured amidst missiles landing nearby.

The hospital was obsolete and incredibly old. It was a Soviet civilian hospital that, before the war, was planned to be demolished due to an unsafe structure. The government decided to put off the demolition, due to the number of injured soldiers that were arriving in the city. The military occupied the gynaecology department on the upper floor in order to treat the wounded. The rest of the floors were used to treat civilians.

The equipment was so old-fashioned, it belonged in a museum. Yet, they made it work in order to provide the care that was needed. The patient rooms were tiny, with five or six beds in each one, and always smelly due to body odours and a lack of ventilation.

Besides the archaic installations and equipment, doctors and nurses struggled with supplies, so the norm was that anything that could be used more than once had to be re-used. Nothing was thrown away. The laryngeal mask airway, for instance, is of one-time use. In Ukraine, we used, cleaned, and re-used it as many times as possible. Medical supplies were scarce.

Entering this Ukrainian hospital was like travelling to the past. The equipment was rudimentary and outdated, most notable being the ventilator in the shrapnel removal room. They, however, made the best of the situation and used everything to the best of their abilities. At the end of the day, it got the job done. Medecines were in low supply, and everything they got was in different languages, as they were using whatever other countries could supply them with.

When you get closer to the front line, medical management changes. Hospitals become more military-like. They are basically military installations, rather than civilian hospitals. In these times of war, doctors and nurses who were once civilians now belong to the military. They had to wear uniforms, follow orders, and live with constant fear of being relocated closer to the front. Medical centres are more desperate as they require a massive influx of supplies with little room for the large number of injured, so the wounded go through quick interventions and are sent away to other medical facilities. Near the front line, no one stays for extended periods of time.

About 80-85% of casualties that the hospital received were caused by shrapnel, either from FPV (first-person view) drones dropping grenades, or from the thousands of artillery rounds that land every day. When artillery hits, it shoots metal everywhere. I have seen how the largest piece of shrapnel can cause an enormous wound, ripping almost the entire shoulder off, but the injured still survived. I have also seen how the smallest, tiniest, and what looks like the most insignificant piece of metal, the size of a grain of rice, can pierce the lungs and cause death. It is the biggest killer in this war.

But let us not forget about the landmines. Ukraine is highly contaminated with landmines and explosive remnants of war from the previous armed conflict. They pose a deadly threat, especially to civilians. The vast number of amputations caused by them is astonishing.

Physical injuries can describe the horror of this war, but there are some damages that are not noticeable to the eye and really show the true effect of the war. Many people suffer from post-traumatic disorder, and soldiers, for instance, who are exhausted from the war, physically worsen their wounds to extend their time away from the front line.

Did you go through any dangerous situations while in Dnipro?

Hospitals have been attacked since the beginning of the war, so working in medical facilities always comes with risks. Two months ago, Russians conducted a large strike across Ukraine, and they hit the mall across the street as well as the hospital itself, destroying the maternity ward.

I remember one day being in the operating room at 10:30 in the morning, and all of a sudden there was this intense, loud noise. It sounded like a chair was being dragged across the upstairs floor of the hospital (which was impossible because I was on the top floor), and it turned out to be a missile that had struck a few blocks away. They hit an apartment building.

What do citizens do in situations like this? Nothing much. Air raid sirens are a daily occurrence. One just hopes not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If there is a hit, casualties are taken to the hospital, and people clean up the debris and keep working. They have jobs to do, and, they never know where the missile is going to strike. People clear the mess of the destruction, cover the shattered windows, as it was an everyday situation, and life goes on.

Do you have a story of hope?

Patiens at the hospital always tried their best to speak some English to me, but it was never really that good. At the end of the day, though, it was a distraction for them to get away from their pain and be able to speak with a foreigner who travelled from far away to help them. They appreciated it and were really grateful.

The most memorable experience I had was with this one patient who stepped on a land mine. His right leg and arm were gone, his left leg was badly damaged, and he was missing some fingers from the left hand. As I was tending to his care, he heard me speaking in English and was very surprised. We were not able to communicate at all, as he did not speak English, but when I finished my treatment and bandaged him up, he gave me a peace sign with the two fingers left in his only hand, as a sign of respect and gratitude for helping him. It was something I will never forget; it reminded me of the reason I was there. It amazed me that even after all he went through, he still had a smile on his face.

What is the feeling in the streets?

Ukrainians live in constant fear and are worried about what will happen if they lose the war. They are very grateful for the international help, although they fear that this aid might stop someday. They try to continue to have a normal life, although they are surrounded by destruction. The flow of food and basic supplies is constant, and you can find almost everything at the supermarket. Young people meet at the coffee shops, workers go to their jobs, and children go to school. But there is something that, a few times a day, keeps reminding them of the war: the air sirens. They play so often that most of the citizens have learnt to ignore them; only schools interrupt their lessons a few times every day to hide in the basement. How can these children have a proper education if they are always conditioned by possible attacks?

How do you describe your experience in Ukraine?

An experience that has transformed me and shown me the way I want to live once I finish my medical studies. I believe that I have learned a lot about medicine during this experience. I was taught to intubate and handle dangerous opioids that, in United States, for example, would be unimaginable. It would take me 5 to 6 years to be trusted to handle these tasks.

I am not sure what kind of doctor I want to be yet, but I know that whatever I end up deciding, I want to travel the world and help those who need it.

How would you describe the situation in Ukraine in one word?