(RNS) — Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian humanitarian relief organization, is setting up an emergency field hospital in an underground parking garage in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv to provide medical aid to those besieged in escalating Russian attacks.
The Rev. Franklin Graham, who leads the organization based in Boone, North Carolina, said he already has close to 100 medical and logistical workers in Ukraine, Poland, Romania and Moldova, with more on the way.
Medical personnel will begin treating wounded Ukrainians at a triage clinic outside Lviv’s train station on Tuesday (March 8), Graham said. The underground field hospital is expected to begin accepting patients on Wednesday.
Israel on Saturday (March 5) announced that it, too, had dispatched an emergency field hospital in Ukraine. It will also be built in Lviv. Graham said the two would work cooperatively.
Lviv, just 44 miles from the Poland border, is about 340 miles west of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Russian troops have been moving toward Kyiv from the east in an effort to encircle and capture the city. Thousands of women and children have been catching trains west out of the city, according to The New York Times.
“It’s chaos,” said Graham. “When you have that many people, mostly women and children, it breaks your heart when you see what they’re going through.”
Samaritan’s Purse has also distributed food, drinking water, hygiene kits and winter clothing to thousands of refugees crossing the border.
Graham said another cargo plane and a 747 Boeing airline will take off from North Carolina to Ukraine this week, packed with personnel, medical supplies and blue plastic tarp, which the organization distributes to people to cover windows that have been blown out.
The humanitarian response comes as Russia is intensifying assaults on civilian targets and infrastructure. On Monday, the World Health Organization confirmed at least 14 attacks on Ukraine’s health care facilities and classified two more attacks as “possible,” The Washington Post reported.
The Samaritan’s Purse hospital will be equipped with 58 beds and two operating rooms and will be able to perform as many as 14 surgeries a day.
Graham, a conservative evangelical, who met with President Vladimir Putin in 2015 and has praised the Russian president for, among other things, “protecting Russian young people against homosexual propaganda,” said he opposed the war.
While he has previously stated that he opposes sanctions against Russia, on Monday Graham said in an interview that sanctions were needed.
“In this particular case, we need to put all the pressure we can to get this war to come to an end, and sanctions may help push it along,” he said.
Samaritan’s Purse field hospitals have been deployed around the world in the past two years in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization set up hospitals in Cremona, Italy, New York City and Los Angeles to help overstretched hospitals treat a flood of people infected with the coronavirus.
But the field hospitals have also been deployed in response to natural disasters and in war zones. The first Samaritan’s Purse field hospital was set up in 2016 in response to the earthquake in Ecuador. The humanitarian organization also set up an emergency field hospital about 12 miles from Mosul, Iraq, during the 2016–17 battle for the city. In 2019, it installed a field hospital in the Bahamas in response to Hurricane Dorian.
This may be the first time a field hospital is going underground, which will help ward off rain, snow, wind and mud. Graham said heated hospital tents are being assembled now and that Samaritan’s Purse may also open a clinic in Moldova.