The volunteer battalion providing emergency medical aid on Ukraine’s frontlines

15 feb., 2024

Mykyta Zavilinskyi recalls trying to save a wounded soldier on Ukraine’s frontlines where he works as a volunteer paramedic. The injured man in the eastern city of Avdiivka had spent hours without receiving adequate medical care, and his life was slipping away. “We could not bring him back,” Zavilinskyi said. 

Zavilinskyi, a 33-year-old professional photographer from Kyiv, started working in one-month rotations for the Hospitallers, a non-profit organization providing frontline emergency medical aid and evacuations after Russia launched its full-scale invasion in 2022.

“A few months before the start of the full-scale war, I realized that something was going to happen and I needed to define my own role in this scenario,” he told Context in an interview from Kyiv in between rotations. “We also raise funds ourselves, we interact with Ukrainian and international donor organizations, charitable foundations and individuals who help us to cover certain fees and needs.”

Since its inception in 2014, the year Russia attacked eastern Ukraine and annexed Crimea, the Hospitallers has trained 940 paramedics and currently has 360 of them working on the war’s frontlines in more than 50 crews, according to its website. Its slogan is: “For the sake of every life.”

Since the full-scale war began, hundreds more volunteers have been trained by the organization’s paramedic crews helping “those who need it most on the front line every day,” its website states. 

Zavilinskyi is one of them. He typically works in teams of about half a dozen as part of a rotating medical battalion. Treating and evacuating the wounded is critical but challenging, he said, especially when things don’t go to plan. “For example, (when) we know that there is a wounded soldier … but we are unable to get to him due to the complexity of the tactical situation or other reasons,” he said. 

Zavilinskyi recalls his last rotation when a soldier they had to provide medical care to was already clinically dead. On the way to a medical stabilization center, “we resuscitated him using all the means at our disposal,” he said. “Unfortunately, we could not bring him back from clinical death – it is emotionally very difficult.”

Hampering the paramedics’ efforts, Zavilinskyi said, is that Russian forces are increasingly targeting areas where their medical battalions are tasked with providing medical aid to wounded soldiers. “It immediately has a snowball effect. The number of potentially lost lives may increase,” he said.

He adds that adverse weather can also make the work harder. “When the road turns into a complete swamp, the situation reaches a point where the only option for evacuation is to physically carry the soldiers,” he said. “It’s also worth considering that soldiers are often over 80 kilograms … and equipment that also needs to be carried.”

Another Hospitaller volunteer, 27-year-old anesthesiologist Roman Shtybel, has worked in some of the hottest spots of Ukraine, including Bakhmut. 

As the war drags on, however, he said that shortages of medical supplies and personnel on the frontlines are becoming critical and are hampering efforts to save lives. 

“There are a lot of needs, from basic medicines to more complex and expensive things like night vision devices, light-armored vehicles, electronic warfare equipment,” he said. 

“The only way to save the lives of as many Ukrainians as possible is to provide as much assistance to Ukraine as possible: financial, military, and all kinds of other support”, added paramedic Zavilinskyi. 

Shtybel, who is from Ivano-Frankivsk where he works in a children’s intensive care unit at a hospital, said that some of the most difficult medical cases he’s dealt with on the frontline have been head injuries, which can be deceivingly critical and also unpredictable. 

“I’ve had cases where a seemingly insignificant injury has led to death,” he said. “There have also been cases where there was a significant skull fracture with (excessive) bleeding – and the person survived.”

The paramedic work can be physically and psychologically draining and difficult to balance with civic life, he said, adding that his experience in an intensive care ward where you frequently see “terrible things” had prepared him – up to a point. 

Seeing children die amid Russia’s war, however, remains hard. “I don’t think anything can break me mentally like a child’s death,” he said.

Despre autor: Alina Okolot

Avatar of Alina Okolot
Alina Okolot este o jurnalistă ucraineană din Kiev care lucrează în presă din 2017. Alina a lucrat ca reporter TV în departamentul de știri al canalului PravdaTut TV unde a documentat știri din sectoare diverse, de la politic la economic, cultură și sport. Ea a lucrat de asemenea ca editor de programe educaționale și de divertisment pentru canalul Kiev TV și pentru ediția online a Adevărului de Irpin. Alina spune că jurnalismul este vocația sa. Ea s-a alăturat echipei CONTEXT, după ce s-a mutat în România. Ca jurnalist, ea se ocupă de investigarea crimelor de război comise de Rusia în Ucraina, țara sa natală. Ea scrie des despre corupție și documentează poveștile martorilor în subiecte legate de război. Țelul Alinei este să arate lumii adevărul printr-un jurnalism de calitate.

Leave A Comment