MOSTYSKA, Ukraine – A week and a half after its advance team arrived, Israel’s field hospital in Ukraine began to take shape Saturday ahead of its planned Tuesday opening.
The hospital is being constructed in the small town of Mostyska, an hour-and-a-half outside Lviv in western Ukraine. On Saturday morning an Israeli flag was hoisted to fly alongside a Ukrainian one outside the elementary school whose grounds will be home to the NIS 21 million ($6.5 million) facility.
While the project was touch-and-go for days after the intention to erect it was first announced over two weeks ago, the Israeli hospital has overcome funding and security concerns, bringing its 17 tons of equipment from Israel into Ukraine on Saturday morning over the Polish border. The facility is a collaborative effort of the Health Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and Sheba Medical Center, which is operating the hospital.
It is being funded by the Israeli government, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
While 10 outdoor tents were erected by Ukrainian teams and Israeli supervisors over the course of last week, crews from Sheba Medical Center now have three days to build out the hospital’s patient care, laboratory, pharmacy, and logistical support facilities.
The first two of six large trucks were on site with Foreign Ministry and Sheba representatives early on Saturday when The Times of Israel visited the nascent hospital.
“Everything has a sticker and is marked with a color, so we know where it goes,” said Yehuda Katzora, a Sheba administrator who is managing the hospital rollout.
“Today, we’ll unload all of the trucks, and we’ll start to put everything into the hospital by Sunday night,” Katzora said. “We’ll do finishing touches on Monday and open on Tuesday.”
“It will be ready by the time our core staff comes, our doctors and nurses,” he promised. They are set to take off from Israel on Monday morning.
The field hospital is expected to serve Ukrainian refugees and locals, and train local medical teams in telemedicine and field medical care, according to the head of Israel’s mission to Ukraine, Simona Halperin.
“There’s equipment here that they’re not familiar with,” added Katzora.
According to Katzora, the facility’s medical staff — many of whom are Russian and Ukrainian speakers – come from across the Israeli medical system, from different hospitals and health funds, as well as from Magen David Adom. Staff are expected to do two-week rotations at the facility. Currently, the hospital plans to operate for a month, with an option to extend.
The hospital will operate under the name “Kohav Meir” (“Shining Star”), after former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, who was born in Ukraine and was the founder of the Foreign Ministry’s Agency for International Development Cooperation aid program, which is leading the field hospital project.
“I feel a sense of mission, from many perspectives,” said Katzora.
“It’s incredibly emotional to run the whole logistics side of things. It’s a very complicated operation, with coordination with several bodies, including UPS [who transported the medical equipment], El Al, the Foreign Ministry, the Health Ministry. It challenged everyone to give everything and raise a hospital that will be one of the best in the world, in terms of its capabilities, contents, and medical team.”
Alexey Tsiboulski, a Sheba logistical manager who arranged the equipment and then flew to Poland last Thursday to await it, said preparing to operate inside Ukraine posed particular challenges.
“We had to make sure the equipment arrived intact. After all, it’s a warzone,” Tsiboulski said, adding: “And it did.”
Tsiboulski also shared that the weather — significantly colder than the Israeli climate — posed a significant logistical challenge. Mini stoves will heat each of the field hospital’s 10 tents.
Additionally, rather than rely on local communications networks, the hospital team has brought along two satellite dishes to control its own access to patient records and lab analysis.
Tsiboulski, who grew up in the former Soviet Union, said: “I’m really emotional. I walked into the school building [adjacent to the outdoor hospital] and it reminds me of one I studied in 40 years ago.”
“The tables, the chairs, imagining the students sitting in them,” he added. “To come here and help the Ukrainian nation, I didn’t even think twice when they asked, I wanted to come and give a hand.”
The field hospital is located in Mostyska, a sleepy town just 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from the Polish border crossing, and 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) from Lviv. It was chosen in collaboration between the Israeli and Ukrainian governments, with an emphasis on the security of the 80-odd contingent of medical and operational staff that will run the facility.
“We had to balance between giving help and not endangering staff,” said Halperin.
A smaller field hospital organized by American aid organization Samaritan’s Purse, located in the parking lot of a mall on the outskirts of Lviv, has had low demand so far, said a doctor at the facility. “We haven’t had a lot of patients yet,” she said. “[But,] the war is not here at this very moment.”
The Israeli operation expects to be busy “within a few days,” said Katzora.
“We don’t know how many people will come, but we know a lot are interested in it,” Katzora said. “I think two to three days after we start to work, there will already be many people here.”