MYKOLAIV, Ukraine: Syrian doctor Ossama Jari fled Damascus in 2014 to find peace with his Ukrainian wife in the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv. But now war, and Russian bombs, have caught up with him.
In an ophthalmology clinic in the northeast Ingulski district of the city, Jari huddled for safety with other staff and patients in a basement filled with mattresses and jerry cans of water during the merciless bombardment in the night from Friday to Saturday.
While no deaths were reported, windows were blown out, the ground was pockmarked with shell and the neighborhood boiler room was hit. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Jari. “We were living peacefully here. What are the Russians doing? From what are they trying to save us? From themselves?”
Not really dressed for work — kitted out in a shirt printed with nautical motifs — Jari was still trying to treat patients, his eyes weary behind his glasses.
It is a particularly cruel twist of fate for the doctor who had been forced to flee his war-torn homeland during the civil war there, where Russia intervened in 2015 to prop up the regime of President Bashar Assad.
Jari and his wife — whom he met while he was studying medicine in Ukraine — fled the Syrian capital “to find peace” in Mykolaiv.
But the war followed them.
“Syria and Ukraine are in the same situation now,” he said. “War is war, whether it’s over there, here or somewhere else, and it’s the worst thing you can imagine.”
But he would not be drawn on political matters.
“The Russians? Their government? I don’t want to talk about it.”
Jari went upstairs to check on a few patients.
Among them was a 14-year-old boy called Timur, watched over by his mother Natalia Malichka.
In the first days of the war, Timur got a splinter in his eye while cutting wood with his grandfather.
Unable to get to hospital immediately because no buses were running, the teenager’s eye got worse.
Timur remains silent as his mother, shaking, says she is also worried about her two other sons, aged 10 and 20, at home.
“When I’m here with Timur, I know that my baby is at home, and I don’t know if I’ll see him again. I’m torn,” Malichka says.
She and the two other boys were at home when the neighborhood was shelled.
“I was reassured because I knew that Timur was in the basement of the hospital with the doctors. But despite that, he called me, he was terrified.”
“Everything was shaking,” said the hospital’s director Krasimira Rilkova, who looked as exhausted as Jari.
“We didn’t know if we would find the hospital still standing when we came back up from the basement.”
Mykolaiv, a city of around 500,000, stands in the way of Russia’s campaign to take the Black Sea port of Odessa.
For several days now, Ukrainian forces have managed to hold off the besieging Russian troops.