'Just a typical day': Rescuing wounded soldiers in Ukraine
Medics from 'Da Vinci' battalion try to keep spirits up in grim conditions
published : 24 Mar 2023 at 21:45
CHASIV YAR, Ukraine: Standing on the roadside at sunset, a team of medics have snapped on their latex gloves, waiting for the arrival of wounded Ukrainian soldiers.
Based in a frontline village, their job is to collect injured troops battling for Bakhmut, the centre of the war's bloodiest fighting, who have been evacuated by military paramedics.
The medical team gives life-saving treatment like stitches, tracheotomies and draining blood from lungs as they rush the soldiers to a clinic where they get stabilising care and can then go on to a larger hospital in the hub of Kramatorsk.
When the call comes, they speed along dusty roads to a meeting point near the battle-scarred town of Chasiv Yar. Ukrainian troops are stationed all around and there is regular shelling.
After expletive-laden exchanges between military bringing out the injured, relayed on walkie-talkies, an armoured vehicle is waved down by the medics and unloads casualties. Another arrives soon after. They bring four in total.
One dark-haired man is pale but able to walk, dragging one leg. Another lies on a stretcher. He grimaces in pain but raises up fingers in a V-sign.
But when the next delivery arrives minutes later, another man has to be moved carefully in a black body bag: he did not survive the journey from the front.
Alongside him is a man who is walking injured, with concussion.
The medics in non-armoured vehicles converted into ambulances accelerate, at times riding through fields, throwing up clouds of dust.
They take the men to a small clinic, where they are quickly stabilised and evacuated further to hospital.
Medic Andriy, 30, was a civilian maxillofacial surgeon before joining up in March last year.
'He was young'
He is visibly upset as he talks about the man who did not make it out, dying from "critical bleeding" from a leg injury.
"I don't know him but he was young. The wound was very serious," Andriy says.
"This is our typical day: not typical that the guy died, but all the rest was a typical day."
Andriy has also worked in other areas of severe fighting, including Lysychansk and Kherson, but says the battle to control Bakhmut is the worst.
"A lot of amputations. Skull damage. Wounded in the abdominal area," he said, listing common injuries, adding that amputations are almost always of arms.
This is the medical service of the well-known nationalist "Da Vinci" battalion, whose young commander was buried this month after he was killed by shelling, with President Volodymyr Zelensky and Ukraine's commander-in-chief attending.
The young medics spend days and nights in a small cottage.
During downtime, they rest in a back room and listen to music, clean their ambulance and drink green tea.
They have posted a TikTok video showing their day that has more than 3,000 views.
When the call comes, they spring into action, running out to ambulances parked outside.
Nurse Liana, 25, says she deals with fighters' deaths by keeping "my head cool". She joined up in 2019 fresh from medical school.
"Our team spirit is very high," she adds.
An anaesthetist, who gives his call sign Marik, says the two most seriously injured men just brought in had shrapnel wounds but his team were able to remove tourniquets from their limbs — restoring blood supply so they wouldn't require amputation.
Earlier in the day, AFP journalists saw a Da Vinci artillery unit fire an M119 105mm howitzer around a dozen times at Russian positions near Bakhmut, using US-issued ammunition that dates back to 1945.
- Russian invasion