”Itʼs a serious crime against helpless people.” In April, two Russian missiles hit the Kharkiv psychiatric hospital. How doctors and patients come back to life — a report

Sofiia Korotunenko
Yuliana Skibitska
”Itʼs a serious crime against helpless people.” In April, two Russian missiles hit the Kharkiv psychiatric hospital. How doctors and patients come back to life — a report

The cook Tetyana Ivanivna leaves the hospital's broken food block on the night of April 27, 2024.

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»

On the night of April 27, 2024, Russia fired two S-300 missiles at the Saltivka district of Kharkiv. It flew to the territory of the Third Regional Clinical Psychiatric Hospital. Ward No. 14, where about 60 patients are being treated, and the food block were the most affected — the shock wave damaged the roof and shattered almost all the windows, cracks appeared on the walls. There were no casualties, only one patient was cut on the head by the glass. The hospital was quickly restored — in the first days after the shelling, workers fixed the electricity, repaired the sewage and water supply, and patched up all the broken windows with panels. Babelʼs journalist Sofia Korotunenko came to the mental hospital a week later, on May 6, and talked with the administration, employees, some patients and psychiatrist and professor Olena Haustova. We tell the story about another war crime committed by the Russians — and its victims.


On April 27, Tetyana, a cook at the Third Regional Clinical Psychiatric Hospital in Kharkiv, was on duty at the food block. Tetyana is about 60 years old. There was no work at night, so she calmly went to sleep. In the food block there is a small room, densely lined with furniture — a large wardrobe, a bedside table and several beds. Tetyanaʼs bed is the closest to the exit, opposite the two large windows. The woman had to wake up at five in the morning to boil water in the kettles for morning tea, which the patients are scheduled to drink at seven.

Around half past midnight, an air alert was announced in Kharkiv. In a few minutes, the first S-300 rocket hit near the 14th ward of the hospital. The food block shuddered from the shock wave. Tetyana jumped out of bed, managed to put on her slippers and ran out into the corridor. Immediately after that, the second rocket hit the ground in front of the food block — the light went out, the windows flew out, Tetyanaʼs bed was covered with fragments of glass and asphalt.

The head chef of the hospital, Olena, was at home at the time of the attacks, had not yet gone to bed and was preparing for the morning shift. Terrified Tetyana called her: "Olena Mykhailivna, we were hit."

“She then told me that a feeling of fear settled in her soul forever. She was saved only by the fact that the first blow did not happen near the kitchen. There, such large stones flew into the room, there were so many fragments of glass,” Olena recalls and shows the size of the fragments with her hands in white gloves. “The rescuers said that Tetyana Ivanovna might not have survived if she had not hid.

While talking with Olena, Tetyana groped for a way out. The entire floor was covered with small fragments of glass and pieces of wooden window panes. The heavy front door was jammed by the shock wave. Near them, Tetyana waited for the rescuers, who simply broke down the door. The doctor gave the woman a sedative.

Corps of the ward No. 14 after shelling.
One of the broken windows of the canteen. There are fragments of glass and wooden windows on the floor and surfaces.
In front of ward No. 14, there is a deep hole from the S-300 missile.

Corps of the ward No. 14 after shelling. One of the broken windows of the canteen. There are fragments of glass and wooden windows on the floor and surfaces. In front of ward No. 14, there is a deep hole from the S-300 missile.

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»

“Our Tetyana Ivanivna after that, well done, worked her shift all day. She was walking, smiling,” says Volodymyr Stasenko, hospitalʼs deputy director for technical issues.

Stasenko is tall, with dark hair showing gray. During the conversation with us, he is constantly distracted — he greets colleagues, shakes their hands and answers questions. He speaks about Tetyana with a smile, and describes the airstrike concisely, without going into details. Instead, he makes a lot of jokes, convincing that the administration easily coped with the consequences.

Volodymyr Stasenko, hospitalʼs deputy director for technical issues.

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»

After the shelling, at 00:35, chief cook Olena woke Stasenko up with a phone call and informed him about the explosion. It was Stasenko who took everything under control — called the rescuers, organized the work of on-duty workers and those who arrived in the morning by phone.

“I immediately started calling the whole team. Have you ever tried try to wake everyone up at night when they are sleeping. It takes a lot to explain to everyone what happened,” recalls Stasenko.

At five in the morning, when the city curfew ended, the administration and representatives of the city and regional authorities came to the hospital. Together with the commission, the engineers described the consequences of the attack — the shelling damaged not only buildings and windows, but also sewerage and water and electricity supply systems. Patients of the fourteenth ward were temporarily transferred to other buildings. Some of the staff were cleaning up glass and debris, while the rest were working with patients on a regular schedule.

Cook Olena distributes lunch to patients.

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»

In the morning, Olena came to the hospital and organized work at the food block. The patients received morning tea two hours later — the electricity went out, so water was boiled on the stove. Breakfast was already being prepared in the kitchen — the employees started the generator. Around 2:00 p.m., the repairmen returned the light, and the kitchen started working normally. Only the empty window frames reminded of the shelling.

“There was no panic. Everything was organized and done properly,” says Stasenko briefly. “On the same day, volunteers brought materials and began to cover up the windows.”

The cooks are preparing lunch in one of the rooms of the food block. Most of the windows are covered with OSB plates.

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»


On May 6th, we are met by the deputy director of the medical department, Hennadiy Bondarchuk, near the affected building of the 14th ward. He stands where there was a hole from the rocket — it was already covered with sand, earth and rubble. Opposite the fourteenth ward is an old abandoned building. Once it was a part of "Saburovʼs dacha" — the residence of the governor-general of the Kharkiv region Petro Saburov, which was built back in 1796. After Saburovʼs death, according to his will, the estate went to the local "House of the Insane". So in 1820, a mental hospital was built there, which Kharkiv residents still call "Saburovʼs Dacha". The number of patients at the hospital gradually increased, in the 1870s the administration completed new buildings, including the one that was hit by an airstrike on April 27. For decades, the mental hospital was the largest in the Russian Empire.

An abandoned ancient building, in the past it was one of the buildings of the "Saburovʼs dacha".

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»

After the shelling, the historic building was not restored, only fenced off with a red and white tape. The annex to this building was the most affected — one of its walls is almost completely destroyed, the wooden door is bent and no longer closes, and bricks and glass are scattered around. This building has been in a state of disrepair for almost six years. It was closed after the floor collapsed in some places and the wooden floors began to buckle under the workers.

“Currently, we do not use it. This is such an architectural monument in our country, says Hennadiy Bondarchuk. He constantly keeps his arms crossed, answers questions briefly, and when he is silent, he purses his lips in displeasure.

Deputy director of the medical department Hennadiy Bondarchuk.

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»

Doctor Oleh, who worked at the hospital since 2000 and recently resigned, says that the institution has lacked funding for more than forty years, so the administration cannot properly repair either new or old buildings. Bondarchuk, on the contrary, assures that the buildings are constantly undergoing cosmetic repairs, and before the shelling, they were planning to update the intensive care unit.

Bondarchuk is standing near ward No. 14 at the place where there was a hole from the rocket.

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»

There are cracks on the facades of most buildings, tiles and plaster have fallen off in many places, and bricks have fallen somewhere. The building of the fourteenth ward differs from the others only in the hole in the roof and the mud plastered to the walls after the explosion. Fragments of wooden frames and bent gray bars remained in the window openings, which the volunteers closed with plywood.

The entrance to the food court was badly damaged — the tiles and roof tiles fell off, the concrete stairs crumbled.

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»

To the right of the building is a food block. It is a long building made of concrete blocks that survived the impact. Around the main entrance, through which the cook Tatyana escaped at night, the earth and fragments of decorative tiles have not yet been removed. Some of the windows are covered with plywood, the cooks work in semi-darkness. The walls have peeling paint, mold and dirt from the ground. There are broken tiles on the columns and some walls, stains on the ceiling — the roof is leaking. The hospital workers restore the premises on their own — for example, they paint over the rust on the pipes and in the washing machines. Only kitchen boilers are new here. Chef Olena explains that after the shelling they cleaned up themselves, so only the floor and work surfaces were washed.

Tiles from the walls and columns fell in the food block.
Some windows are covered with OSB boards.
The cooks have removed the outcomes of the shelling and are working in semi-darkness.

Tiles from the walls and columns fell in the food block. Some windows are covered with OSB boards. The cooks have removed the outcomes of the shelling and are working in semi-darkness.

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»

It is not possible to look at the wards — the patients have already returned to them. Pictures taken by a photographer on the night of the attack show that the ward is a small room tightly packed with single beds covered with dirty, many times washed sheets. Patients sleep close to each other, there is no place for their belongings.

Through the broken window of ward No. 14, one can see that patients are sleeping in a small room on old washed beds.

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»

Bondarchuk does not want to show the shelter. Formally, he says that this is prohibited by the law on psychiatry, according to which information about the state of a personʼs mental health and his or her private life cannot be disclosed. However, it is not clear what the shelter is for.

“Our patients have special characteristics. These are not ordinary people who got up on command and went to the shelter,” explains Bondarchuk irritably. “Because of the sounds of the siren, the situation in the department is usually very tense. Itʼs stressful for patients, and they just donʼt want to go anywhere.”

In the photos taken by the photographer on the night of the shelling, it can be seen that the patients of ward No. 14 are going down to the shelter. Although Bondarchuk insists on the opposite.

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»

Substantial repairs, which are needed by the department and the cafeteria, have not been planned yet, and there will not be enough funds. First, the most necessary things will be fixed — the windows and the roof.

"All issues are being resolved, and everything will be restored as soon as possible," says the deputy director, avoiding specific dates. “Have you ever done repairs? During the work, new nuances constantly appear, and all this can be delayed. We hope to finish it by autumn.”

There was a mountain of unused sand near the food block, which was used to cover the craters from the rockets.

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»


In the backyard of the hospital, there is a small line of patients receiving food. Nurses are next to them, they help the wards pour it from iron containers into small buckets. Patients carry buckets to their wards, where nurses will spread the food on plates.

Patients and their supervisors lined up in front of the canteen for food.
Patients help nurses and cooks deliver food to the wards.

Patients and their supervisors lined up in front of the canteen for food. Patients help nurses and cooks deliver food to the wards.

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»

“My name is Natalya. I was here during the shelling, I am being treated in the first ward,” one of the patients begins to tell and puts buckets of food on the ground. She is short, with dark hair. He speaks chaotically and smiles awkwardly. She is interrupted by one of the nurses — the latter scolds her for stopping and leads her towards the building.

Another patient in line reads poems, probably of his own authorship. He is about 35 years old, dressed in gray pants and a blue T-shirt, which he tugs from time to time. When the photographer approaches him, he begins to speak louder and more expressively, straightening his shoulders. He introduces himself as Artemiy.

“This is the city where there are relatives, here is the city where love is, here is the city, which from now on we proudly call a hero,” Artemiy artistically spreads his hands and smiles at the camera. “Here is a city where a bunch of football fans gave the Russians a run for their money. And let there be hurricanes, let there be hail, and let Iskander fly there. Kharkiv is a city where NATO also sucked a huge dick.”

Artemiy expressively reads a poem and poses for a photo.
At the climax of the poem, he gets down on one knee and offers to kiss the hand.

Artemiy expressively reads a poem and poses for a photo. At the climax of the poem, he gets down on one knee and offers to kiss the hand.

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»

At the climax of the poem, the man gets down on one knee and asks to take a photo together as a memory. He says he ended up in a mental hospital because he read too many poems since childhood.

“I am now lying in the third ward. It was scary when they were shooting, but we survived everything,” Artemiy says quickly. “I was once in the 14th ward, on September 7, 2000. You better take a look at what they feed us deliciously here — rice, nuggets, cabbage.”

While Artemiy collects food and poses with buckets in front of the photographer, another patient, Sasha, speaks to us. He is thin and short, his clothes are a little too big. At first, Sasha assures that he works in a hospital. But when the barmaid corrects him, he begins to share everything — how he got to the hospital, living conditions, impressions of the food. He is pleased that he is listened to attentively. He says this rarely happens in the hospital.

The purple sweater is a little too big for Sasha.
Sasha carries buckets of food to his ward.

The purple sweater is a little too big for Sasha. Sasha carries buckets of food to his ward.

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»

In order to attract attention to himself again, Artemiy begins to shout lines of poetry and asks the photographer to capture him on camera. After that, he mentions that he is an academician of philological sciences and is going to receive the Nobel Prize next year.

"You come to us more, come more often," Artemiy finally shouts and goes to the building with the nurse.

Artemiy says goodbye and goes to the third ward.

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»

A dark-haired man in his thirties is sitting on the bench, he has taken off his T-shirt and lowered his pants below his waist. He, like some patients, is allowed to walk on his own, without the supervision of orderlies. He answers the question simply — he is not worried about the shelling anymore, he likes it in the hospital, but he is really looking forward to being discharged.

The patient is waiting for his mother on a bench in front of one of the buildings.

Яків Ляшенко / «Бабель»

“Soon my mother will come and talk [with the doctors] when I leave. Iʼve been here for more than a month,” the man explains. “I really want to go home.”

Volodymyr Stasenko believes that the shelling almost did not harm the patients — because of their illnesses, they did not understand what had happened. Hennadiy Bondarchuk disagrees — he says that after the shelling, the patientsʼ emotional state deteriorated significantly, but the staff managed to stabilize it. Some patients were prescribed stronger drugs.

Olena Haustova, a psychiatrist and professor at the O.O. Bohomolets National Medical University, says that only a part of patients with very serious mental conditions could not understand what happened. Due to shelling and war, they may be in a state of permanent retraumatization. This greatly complicates the work of doctors — patients usually recover only when the events that traumatized them are over.

"This is all a big crime against helpless people," says Haustova. "The hospital is associated with a safe place where people will definitely be helped. But doctors cannot prevent shelling.”

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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Sofiia Korotunenko
Yuliana Skibitska
war crimes

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