“I spent 800 hours straight treating Ukrainians in the bloodiest siege of Putin’s war,” says the heroic doctor a year later
TRAUMATED children, dead young soldiers and the constant roar of Russian guns — a doctor has recounted his 35 days in hell on the frontlines, saving lives in the bloodiest siege of Vladimir Putin’s war.
dr Yevhen Shepotynnyk was a neurologist at Mariupol City Hospital No. 4 when his world was turned upside down when the Russian army poured across the border into Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
The shelling began almost immediately, and just four days later his beloved city was surrounded by 14,000 soldiers and hundreds of tanks from Vladimir Putin’s forces.
What ensued was a relentless barrage that left a city once famed for its history and prime location as a gateway to Sea of Azov resorts in utter ruin.
About 100,000 people used to live in Mariupol, but the city was reduced to rubble by the Russians – almost 90 percent of all buildings were damaged.
It was a siege that lasted almost two months – and ended exactly a year ago when the last brave Ukrainian defenders abandoned their stronghold at the Azov Valley Iron and Steel Works on May 20.
Azovstal lay on a vast network of tunnels and bunkers – allowing the Ukrainians to wage a brutal final battle against the Russians.
dr Shepotynnyk was traveling to his hospital for work as Putin’s attack intensified on February 28 — taking his family while the Russians exposed themselves.
He was locked into a 840+ hour shift struggling with horrific injuries and constant death.
The doctor stayed in the hospital, constantly on call and getting as little sleep as he could while trying to save as many lives as possible.
“I went to work, took my family and that was it, we never came back home. It was the longest ministry of my life,” said Dr. Shepotynnyk to The Sun Online.
Mariupol No. 4 was only a few hundred meters from the Azovstal power plant – so they were constantly under Russian fire.
dr Shepotynnyk continued: “The Russians shelled the hospital many times with everything they had – mortars, Grad multiple rocket launchers, tanks.”
“There was almost nothing left of our intensive care unit. Many doctors were killed. But we did our duty to the end.”
Pictures shared by the doctor with The Sun Online show parts of the hospital completely destroyed by the constant blaze.
dr Shepotynnyk’s 840 or so hellish labors at the front only ended when they were forced to flee the hospital on April 5.
The Russian forces were now too close – but they managed to flee when they left Mariupol No. 4.
Hospitals appeared to be fair game for the Russians during the siege, as Putin’s troops are known to have bombed Maternity Hospital No. 3, killing four people and losing a pregnant woman her child.
“The strongest memories are the deaths of colleagues, civilians and children. Those are horrible memories,” said Dr. Shepotynnyk to The Sun Online.
“There was nothing worse than that. Many medical workers, patients and civilians who were just brought to the hospital died.”
“We had to make very difficult decisions
“It was very difficult with water and food. We felt sorry for the patients who suffered more than we did.”
As a neurologist, Dr. Shepotynnyk with some of the most complex injuries – including those involving brain and spinal cord damage.
He worked as best he could in the near-impossible conditions – but deaths kept occurring.
For the paramedic, one of the most frightening memories is that of a boy named Alyosha.
The little boy was only eight years old – and was found by soldiers hiding under the stairs where his parents had been killed.
He had been seriously injured.
To save him, Dr. Shepotynnyk and his colleagues cut out a piece of his skull.
“The boy didn’t speak for two weeks and silently drew scary pictures,” the doctor told The Sun Online.
And another defining memory for the doctor was when the Ukrainian armed forces brought them a soldier who sadly died.
But the soldier had a medicine kit with him, with which he later saved the life of a seriously wounded young man (20), thanks to the high-quality bandages it contained.
“I do not know the name of the deceased soldier and his comrades. If you’re reading this, I want you to know that your first aid kit saved a life,” said Dr. Shepotynnyk.
He continued, “I am proud that our hospital survived in such conditions.”
“We helped until the end, stabilized the patients and got them out alive.”
A year after the siege ended, Mariupol remains in Russian hands — occupied and part of the Donetsk region that Putin claims belongs to them.
dr However, Shepotynnyk is confident that they can defeat Putin.
“Ukraine will return to Mariupol,” he told The Sun Online.
And now he’s helping to lead the Heart of Azovstal project, which helps provide medical treatment and mental health support to those who fought in the war.
It is funded by the Rinat Akhmetov Foundation – Akhmetov being a Ukrainian billionaire who owned the Azovstal Steel Plant and the Shakhtar Donetsk football team.
“The patients I have personally met are very motivated and have a clear focus on rehabilitation, recovery and returning to a fulfilling life,” said Dr. Shepotynnyk.
“These are men of steel.”
Kiev believes they managed to hold their own against Putin’s forces in the city by a six-to-one ratio – with 6,000 Russians dead to 1,000 Ukrainians.
It is also feared that up to 25,000 civilians were killed during the siege.
And thousands of Ukrainian soldiers were captured when the steel mill was finally abandoned as the fortress became untenable.
One of the detainees was Olexandra Kruchenko, 26, a soldier and medic who was in the Azov Valley.
“The first thing I remember is my mum calling at 5am on February 24,” she told The Sun Online.
“Sasha, military vehicles are passing us, we don’t understand what’s happening,” his mother said in despair from her home in Hlukhiv.
And with that, the war had begun for Olexandra, and she quickly found herself in the siege of Maripol.
“The fights were very close, sometimes we were 200-300 meters apart,” she told The Sun Online.
“The Russians outnumbered us in terms of people, equipment and weapons.”
Olexandra was part of the unit that managed to capture Azovstal on April 11 and broke through under cover of darkness.
“The facility was under constant enemy attack, it was just being destroyed and eventually the stocks of food and medicine ran out because we were surrounded and nothing was being brought in,” she told The Sun Online.
And while they held out for more than a month, the siege finally ended and she was captured and taken to a prison in Olenivka before being transferred to occupied Crimea.
She lost 22 pounds during captivity – but was eventually released on October 17 and received the Order of Bravery from Ukraine.
“In Mariupol we lost many of our brothers and sisters, hundreds and hundreds were injured,” she told The Sun Online.
“But for more than a year, about two thousand prisoners are still in the hands of the occupiers.”
“I was in captivity for exactly five months and it is very lucky to be able to return to my home country to see my family and friends.”
“We must not forget our prisoners and fight for the return of each and every one of them to Ukraine.”
Putin claimed the invasion of Russia was merely a “special military operation” that would only last two weeks.
Now tens of thousands of Russians — up to 200,000 — lie dead in fields across Ukraine.
And millions of Ukrainian civilians have endured untold misery as cities were vandalized and their homes stolen.
Putin foolishly believed his armed forces would be welcomed as liberators in Ukraine.
But instead, the first attack ended in disaster, with his forces annihilated and thrown back to Russia.
Kiev, too, continues to demand Western weapons they believe they need to defeat the Russians.
The world is eagerly awaiting what Ukraine will accomplish in its forthcoming counteroffensive – with hopes that it could bring decisive advantages on the frontline, particularly around Bakhmut.