In Ukraine, “the war also takes possession of the minds”

By Florence Aubenas

Posted today at 3:22 p.m., updated at 5:26 p.m.

The sound of the siren rises, gently at first, before swelling in powerful jerks. Everything stops, silence falls, the city is nothing more than a sound: the roar of the alarm. For a moment, the passers-by freeze, on the lookout; even a baby was silent in his pram. Then the crowd shakes. We are now hurrying towards the air-raid shelters, a cavalcade, but still mute, with glances towards the sky, and the impression that any word would bring down misfortune. For a month, Ivano-Frankivsk, in western Ukraine, has been bombed several times. Always the same target, for the moment anyway: the military airport, whose proximity to the Polish border makes it accessible to international aid. From now on, the city has learned to live to the rhythm of the landings.

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Psychiatrist Professor Mykhaylo Pustovoyt remembers the sense of unreality Ukrainians struggled with at the start of the Russian invasion. Some stopped him in the street to slip him, very seriously: “Is it true, doctor, what is happening?” Or am I delusional? » Others asked him if they needed to consult, “because me, in my family, we don’t believe in it”, repeated a woman, shaking her head.

Today, Professor Pustovoyt receives at the Ivano-Frankivsk psychiatric hospital. The airport and its constant bustle are a few hundred meters away, on the other side of an avenue. In comparison, the place seems almost abandoned: a large park overgrown with tall grass, planted with small, vaguely dilapidated pavilions with, in the middle, a bare concrete building in the purest Soviet architectural tradition. “We are the other dimension of war, explains the doctor. It is not only played on the front, it also takes possession of the minds. »

Patient transfers

The building seems built so that you can get lost in it, stairs, labyrinth of corridors, stairs again, doors all alike, to be locked and unlocked to enter each department. The rooms have 4 people, beds separated by a meager span, indefinable smell of medicine, urine and food. “We have become one of the most modern establishments, comments the director, Myron Mulyk. In kyiv, my colleagues always use dormitories for 40 people, according to Soviet standards. » The Ivano-Frankivsk hospital was also chosen to receive patients evacuated from other cities. A group of anonymous artists should start organizing convoys.

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