Russia may be facing an imminent medicine shortage as winter approaches, according to a Sunday intelligence update from Ukraine's Ministry of Defense.
Russia normally imports a large amount of medical equipment from the European Union and the United States, including pacemakers and radiotherapy devices, according to an April 2022 Reuters report. However, the EU and the US are currently imposing very strict trade sanctions on Russia.
The issue is complicated further when accounting for vital, complex machinery like dialysis systems or ventilators for COVID-19 patients, which require regular replacement and renewal of disposable materials.
Is medicine really under sanction?
Medical and pharmaceutical supplies for Russian civilians from the EU are not officially sanctioned, per the text of EU Council Regulation No. 833/2014, which was put into motion in July 2014 in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea and has been regularly updated since the outbreak of the war in 2022.
A March 2022 Reuters report added that the sanctions on Russia from the US, Britain and Canada also do not apply to medicine and medical equipment.
The report also projected that the sanctions combined with the cessation of major shipping companies' service to Russia would impede the delivery of medical supplies; this prediction has proved accurate, according to the Ukraine Ministry of Defense.
"Logistics to Russia are quite challenging due to limited transportation possibilities. Nevertheless, we are evaluating all options on a best-effort basis and so far have been able to keep some logistics channels open," medical device giant Siemens Healthineers told Reuters in April.
Ukrainian intelligence reports that the Russian Ministry of Health instructed all regions of the country to build up a stock of medicine and supplies to last at least four months. It also claims that Russian surgeons are lamenting the lack of supplies and that vital equipment is not being restocked. This is reportedly already impacting patients, with non-urgent procedures being postponed indefinitely and only those in the direst need receiving care.
The state of medical care in Ukraine
Ukraine is receiving medical equipment and supplies from supporting governments worldwide; however, their efforts to treat the sick and wounded are still regularly impeded by Russian strikes.
On Friday, amid widespread blackouts, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense tweeted out a photograph of surgeons operating by lamplight at the Lviv Center for Children's Cardiology.
No time for blackouts. Surgeons of the Center for Children's Cardiology in Lviv continued heart surgery after the power was turned off due to a russian missile attack.@MoH_Ukraine pic.twitter.com/8YFLL71Xa8— Defense of Ukraine (@DefenceU) November 17, 2022
The blackouts are a direct result of Russian missile strikes, which have been especially persistent since Russian forces pulled out of Kherson.
Reuters contributed to this report.