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Maternity hospital bombing in Oscar-winning “20 Days in Mariupol” is one of 1350+ attacks on health care in Ukraine

The Academy Award best documentary film win tonight for “20 Days in Mariupol” highlights how Russian forces have attacked Ukrainian hospitals and health workers as a barbaric war strategy, said Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). 

The documentary depicts the deadly aftermath of the Russian bombing of Maternity Hospital No 3 in Mariupol, Ukraine on March 9, 2022, as well as the broader siege on Mariupol civilians in the early weeks of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.  

Research by PHR and partners shows that the carnage depicted in “20 Days in Mariupol” is not an isolated incident, but part of a clear pattern.  

At least 1351 attacks on health care facilities, workers, transports, and other infrastructure have been perpetrated in Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion began in February 2022. This includes 708 attacks that destroyed or damaged medical facilities or clinics  and the killing of at least 199 health workers. 58 of these attacks affected maternal health care services, like the attack on Maternity Hospital No 3 in Mariupol as seen in the documentary. 

“The searing scenes in ‘20 Days in Mariupol’ should be a wake-up call to the world to end violence against health care – in Ukraine and in conflicts around the globe,” said Christian De Vos, JD, PhD, director of research & investigations at PHR. “In Syria and now in Ukraine, the Russian government has turned hospitals – places of healing and refuge – into targets and graveyards.”  

“Director Mstyslav Chernov and his team at PBS Frontline and the Associated Press have created a remarkable and essential film,” said De Vos. “We hope their Oscar win prompts greater awareness and strengthens efforts to protect and defend patients and health workers caught in the crossfire in Ukraine and globally.” 

“Without Chernov and his colleagues, the world may never have known about the bombardment of the Mariupol maternity hospital. As the last-remaining journalists in Mariupol, they bore witness and enabled the outside world to have a glimpse into the early horrors of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The images and videos they managed to transmit out of the war zone quickly became emblematic of Russia’s assaults on Ukrainian civilians. Chernov and his colleagues risked their lives to shine a light on the human tolls of war and rampant human rights abuses. Journalists and researchers have shown the facts; it’s now on policymakers to act to hold perpetrators to account and strengthen the protection of health care in conflict everywhere,” said De Vos. 

PHR, alongside partners including eyeWitness to Atrocities, Insecurity Insight, Media Initiative for Human Rights, and the Ukrainian Healthcare Center, have spent the past two years documenting the scale, scope, and impacts of violence against health care in Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The coalition’s most recent research documented how Russian authorities are forcing Ukrainians in temporarily-occupied territories of Ukraine to abandon their Ukrainian citizenship and adopt Russian passports in order to access basic health care and medicines. 

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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