The loud cries of little Veronica echo through the corridors of the Pokrovsk maternity hospital in eastern Ukraine.
Born nearly two months premature, weighing 3 pounds 4 ounces, he receives oxygen through a nasal tube to help him breathe and is treated for jaundice with an ultraviolet lamp in an incubator.
Tetiana Myroshnychenko carefully connects the tubes so that Veronica can eat her mother’s stored breast milk to quench her hunger.
Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, three hospitals in government-controlled areas of the war-torn Donetsk region already had facilities for treating premature babies.
One was hit by Russian airstrikes and the other was forced to close as a result of fighting. Only the maternity hospital in the mining town of Pokrovsk remains.
Dr. Myroshnychenko, the sole remaining neonatal specialist on site, currently resides at the hospital. Her three-year-old son divides the week between staying at the facility and her father, a miner, staying at home.
A baby in a hospital’s ground-level incubation ward can’t be detached from the life-saving machine when an air raid siren sounds.
“If you were to take Veronica to the shelter, it would take five minutes. But for her, those five minutes can be very important,” says Dr. Myroshnychenko.
According to hospital officials, the rate of premature or complicated births has nearly doubled this year compared to previous years, attributed to stress and a rapidly deteriorating standard of living. It is a devastating blow to the remaining pregnant women in the area.
Russian- and Moscow-backed separatists now occupy just over half of the Donetsk region, an area roughly the size of Sicily. Pokrovsk is still in a Ukrainian government-controlled area 40 miles west of the front line.
Within the hospital’s maternity ward, talk of war is discouraged.
“Of course, everything that happens outside this building concerns us, but we are not talking about it,” said Dr. Milosnichenko. “Their main concern now is the baby.”
Fighting in the Dontescu region began in 2014, but when Russian-backed separatists began fighting the government and took over parts of the region, new mothers had little chance of getting treatment once they gave birth. As a result, hospital stays began to lengthen. she was discharged.
Among them is 23-year-old Inna Kyslychenko from Pokrovsk.
Shaking her two-day-old daughter Yesenia, she said she was considering joining a mass evacuation to Ukraine, a safer region in the West, when she left the hospital.
In government-owned areas of Donetsk, many vital services such as heat, electricity and water have been damaged by Russian bombing, and living conditions are expected to worsen as winter approaches.
“I am worried not only for us, but for all the children, the little lives of the whole of Ukraine,” said Kislichenko.
More than 12 million people in Ukraine have been displaced from their homes by the war, according to the United Nations relief agency. About half were displaced within Ukraine, while the rest moved to other European countries.
But moving the maternity hospital from Pokrovsk is not an option.
“Even if the hospital were moved, patients would still have to stay here,” said chief physician Ivan Tsyganok, who continued to work even when the town was hit by Russian rockets.
“The birth of a baby cannot be canceled or rescheduled,” says Dr. Tsyganok.
The closest existing maternity facility is in the Dnipropetrovsk region adjacent to Ukraine, a three-and-a-half hour drive along a secondary road.
Last week, Andrii Dobrelia, 24, and his wife, Maryna, 27, arrived at the Pokrovsk hospital from a nearby village.
After the doctors performed a series of tests, they looked uneasy as they escorted Ms. Dobreria to the operating room for her caesarean section, but said little.
Dr. Tsiganok and his colleagues hurriedly changed and prepared for the operation.
Twenty minutes later, I heard the crying of a newborn boy, Timur. After examination, Timur was taken to meet his father in the room next to him.
Now that the war has reached six months, Dr. Tsiganok and his colleagues say they have good reasons to stay in the war.
“These children we are sending out into the world will be the future of Ukraine,” he said.
“I think their lives are different from ours. They will live outside of war.”