Special Project 14:45 26 Dec 2022

"My dog will be in body armor and with its own machine gun": St. Nicholas in Kyiv's Okhmatdyt Children's Hospital

On December 19, Saint Nicholas arrived at the Okhmatdyt Children's Hospital to present gifts from the BGV Charity Fund and German partners #WeAreAllUkrainians. Despite russia's morning shelling and trying to deprive the little Ukrainians of the holiday, the hospital still hosted a festive concert. And the children, at least for a while, forgot about the war and diseases.

On this day, none of the 600 small patients was left without attention. Moreover, each of them managed to tell Nicholas their most secret wish. The children also shared their dreams with Rubryka.

"We were together, and that's the main thing"

"I've been in the hospital since Monday. I even like it here. This year, I didn't make any wish to St. Nicholas," says 12-year-old Denys.

"Did you behave well?" we ask in response.

"Fine," the little one laughs and lowers his dark eyes in embarrassment. Then he cheerfully looks at everyone from under his forehead.

"What are you dreaming about?" we ask. And he replies:

"So that I don't have diabetes."

Next to Denys, 12-year-old Sofia examines her gift from St. Nicholas. Inside are a toy, a soft blanket, a bamboo thermal cup, and sugar-free sweets. The girl also has diabetes. She got to Okhmatdyt almost two weeks earlier than Denys.

"I asked Saint Nicholas to heal me. I want the war to end and peace everywhere. I am being treated here with my mother. She is also under treatment. We met the war here, but everything was relatively calm. We were together, and that's the main thing," Sofia shares.

Охматдит, пацієнти

Sofia, Yaroslav, and Denys are Okhmatdyt patients.

While the children are extracting blankets from their transforming toys, we meet the executive director of Okhmatdyt Hospital, Volodymyr Zhovnir. We first ask what dream the doctor asked St. Nicholas to fulfill.

"Should I have many dreams or just one?" the doctor laughs. "I want victory and peace. That's already two. And the main dream is that all the children are healthy, recover as soon as possible and return home. And for my patients, I want peace, but necessarily with victory. Because without victory, we don't need it."

"The worst thing for a doctor is when you can't help"

Volodymyr Zhovnir says he remembered February 24 as a complete unknown. It was clear that a great war had begun, but it was not all that clear what to do about it now. Nevertheless, the same day, Okhmatdyt's team gathered and decided to stay in their place. Doctors and nurses understood that from then on, there would be a lot of not only sick but also injured children, and saving them was the direct duty of the hospital.

"On the first day of the full-scale invasion, we had a hospital full of patients. We quickly realized that it was necessary to discharge full-time patients, which we managed to do in just two days. Then, during the first week, we evacuated children with oncological diseases, immunodeficiencies, and kidney failure. We arranged with hospitals in other countries and transported children there through the western regions. 

The worst thing for a doctor is when you cannot help a sick child. One of the first patients from February 24 arrived dead, and one was in a state of clinical death. And there was nothing we could do. These are the most terrible challenges. 

These children, healthy children, died from war trauma. This, in my opinion, should not happen in today's world. It is the worst when a person who chose the most peaceful profession, a pediatric surgeon, has to work with war trauma," says Volodymyr Zhovnir. 

Володимир Жовнір, генеральний директор Охматдиту

Volodymyr Zhovnir with the patient.

And in a few steps, the holiday continues. St. Nicholas sits down more comfortably to listen carefully to everything about the dreams of the little ones. And his assistant is already preparing to hand out another set of gifts. Today there are 599 of them, as well as young patients.

"If these little heroes did not give up to disease or war, we have no right to give up either"

"I also wrote a letter to St. Nicholas. I really want the war to end, and I got my present," chirped eight-year-old Sashko, clutching his crutches.

"What kind of present do you want?" we ask.

"I will not say!" the boy starts to laugh heartily, and then he continues: "Well, I want a builder's kit to have tools and a helmet. And I also want a police officer set. I want to become a policeman or a soldier. To protect everyone. And I won't say what else I wished."

The boy laughs again and, after a while, adds:

"And I also want to go home."

"What will you do at home?"

"I will walk with the dog. He is a big guard, a shepherd. This is my bodyguard. He barks! I train him and say 'speak' and 'sit.' And he is sitting! But not very obedient. Diligent. When I am a soldier, my dog ​​will be in a bulletproof vest with its own machine gun," Sashko concludes.

Охматдит, Сашко

Okhmatdyt always took care of children who needed complex and long-term treatment. With the beginning of a full-scale war, more and more children who suffered from shelling began to arrive here. The hospital says that creating a festive atmosphere within these walls is now more critical than ever.

This guided the team of the BGV Charity Fund, which joined in congratulating children on the initiative of ATB Supervisory Board member Anna Butkevych. German partners — Volodymyr Klychko's #WeAreAllUkrainians initiative — have also become the project donors. 

Охматдит, Святий Миколай

"I'm not a doctor, a soldier, or a superhero. Unfortunately, I can't save the whole world, but I can bring a holiday to the children in Okhmatdyt together with my team. And I'm happy that there are people around me who are also ready to give children joy during difficult times.

This is not the first year that we have supported Okhmatdyt. We used to buy necessary medical equipment here, and now please small patients. Children are our future. We protect, defend and rebuild the country primarily for them. They are our personal points of invincibility. And if these little heroes did not give up either to disease or war, we have no right to give up either," says Anna Butkevych. 

Анна Буткевич

Anna Butkevych

The benefactor says the holiday was also special for the foundation's team. BGV decided not to hire anyone to pack the gift sets but to do it independently, thus team building. 

"We deliberately did not recruit additional people to the warehouse. The entire foundation team (about 30 people) gathered for the weekend and, in a team-building format, packed and collected all 600 gifts. And it was terrific because the opportunity to do something useful and share kindness with those who need it unites the team best. 

All the children who are currently being treated in Okhmatdyt received gifts. Moreover, one little girl received her present a day early because she was discharged on December 18. She beat the disease. That's why the first gift went to the little winner yesterday," adds Anna Butkevych.


Part of the BGV Fund team that came to organize a celebration in Okhmatdyt.

"The doctors here are good. They treat my legs"

In the corridor, we meet two girls aged six and nine. Children say that they miss school and friends. Then the younger one starts singing a song about St. Nicholas. The older woman tells a poem. Both still talk a lot about themselves and hug the foundation team. The children lack regular communication and life outside the hospital. So every opportunity to experience it here is worth its weight in gold. 

Охматдит, війна

Nine-year-old Anhelina is among those who want to finally return home. Now the girl moves around in a wheelchair, but she dreams that this will change soon.

"I want to become a doctor, and I also want to dance. There is a dance club in my city where I will practice ballet," the girl says. 

"What kind of doctor will you be?"

"The one who heals the legs. The doctors here are good, they treat my legs, and I will treat them. All the doctors here are friends with me. I have been here for a month and a couple of days. Home soon.

"What will you do at home?"

"I will walk with my sisters and brothers. I have three sisters and two brothers. We will build a snowman and play with snowballs."

"What gift do you wish from St. Nicholas?"

Someone from the side tells the girl something about sweets. But she thinks for a while and then answers in her own way:

"So that the war ends. I really want it."

Охматдит, лікарня

Hospital workers say that all children in Okhmatdyt always have one dream — to recover as soon as possible. This year, another one was added to the list — peace. Many children who are in the hospital today met a full-scale war here. Doctors, nurses, and nannies experienced the first days together with small patients as one big family. The hospital adds: it is difficult for children to stay here all the time. Therefore, such holidays help them recharge and feel like children again.

Finally, we ask Executive Director Volodymyr Zhovnir to tell a story that best shows Okhmatdyt during the war. The doctor smiles kindly:

"A story? These are numerous stories of miracles. One miracle was when a child with a head wound lived for a while in the city he was wounded in Mykolaiv. Only then was he brought here, we performed an operation, removed the fragment from the head, from inside the brain, and the child survived and resumed mental and physical activity. This is a miracle.

Miraculously, when all the employees of Okhmatdyt were presented with flowers at the Spring Festival in March, [Ukrainian musician] Oleh Skrypka came and held a concert. There were many such miracles, and they continue.

It is a wonder that today, despite the shelling, the holiday came to the children. Presents arrived, artists arrived, and everyone had time to dance and sing along. And only at the end of the celebration the lights went out, and the air alarm was announced. Nicholas gave the children a holiday, and the fund gave gifts. Everyone is happy and distracted from the war for a moment."


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