US politicians ask Pentagon to set up field hospitals near Ukraine

Russian strikes on hospitals and other non-military targets have killed large numbers of civilians

Paramedics tend a civilian wounded by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 2. AP

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A bipartisan group of US legislators is calling on President Joe Biden's administration to establish field hospitals near Ukraine’s border and ramp up medical support for what’s expected to be a months-long war of attrition waged by Russia.

Forces aligned with Ukraine have suffered thousands of casualties since Russia invaded on February 24.

And Russian strikes on hospitals and other non-military targets have killed large numbers of civilians and strained Ukraine’s ability to care for sick and wounded people.

The Associated Press has documented three dozen Russian attacks on medical facilities, hitting medics, patients and even newborns.

More than a dozen US House of Representatives members wrote on Friday to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin asking for the US to fill gaps in Ukraine’s medical infrastructure.

The steps recommended by the group include opening field hospitals in eastern Poland, providing Ukraine with armoured ambulances and taking some of the sick and wounded to the US military’s Landstuhl regional hospital in western Germany.

“We’re going to have to really step up in a really big way to relieve the combat wounded and civilian casualties that will be coming in the weeks and months ahead,” said Congressman Jason Crow, who recently visited Poland and other countries in the region.

Congressman Joe Wilson said in a statement that "we must remain united and provide Poland and our other Nato partners with the necessary medical and healthcare assistance to alleviate the suffering of the Ukrainian people".

Ukrainian rescuers and medical workers help injured people following a Russian shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine. EPA

With diplomatic efforts making little public progress so far, most observers believe the war in eastern Ukraine could go into the summer.

Mr Biden has committed to the US ramping up its support for Ukraine while not sending US troops and avoiding actions the White House sees as drawing Russian President Vladimir Putin into a direct conflict with Washington.

Deploying US doctors and medics to eastern Poland could be risky if there’s a strike near the border.

Ukraine has held out against Mr Putin’s offensive longer than much of the world expected.

An estimated 2,000 troops remain holed up inside a sprawling steel plant in the key port city of Mariupol, which Russia is close to taking after having bombed and shelled it for weeks.

Mr Biden on Thursday announced an additional $1.3 billion in new weapons and economic assistance.

Even hundreds of miles away from the front line, field hospitals in eastern Poland staffed by US and western personnel could ease the burden on Ukraine and “make sure there’s sustainability to this conflict", said Mr Crow.

“The Ukrainians just do not have the capacity to support tens of thousands of combat wounded over the course of months,” he said.

Lt Col Anton Semelroth, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Defence Department since the war began has provided first aid kits and tourniquets to Ukraine, and “we are considering what additional assistance could be provided".

State Department spokesman Ned Price, asked about Ukraine’s medical needs, noted that the US is providing “the Ukrainian government with resources it can use as it sees fit".

Updated: April 22, 2022, 10:16 PM
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