“It’s emotionally difficult when the ‘Cargo 200’ doesn’t fit in the car”. Stories of three paramedics afield
13 June, 2022
25-year-old paramedic Kateryna Halushka Photo: Kateryna Halushka/Facebook

Minus one paramedic at the front means at least ten lost fighters. This is taught in emergency medical care trainings. Paramedic is a priority target for enemy snipers.

hromadske reveals the biggest fears of doctors afield, conditions they work in and whether they believe in a quick victory.

Kateryna Halushka: “Sometimes I sit down and start crying”

Sometimes it seemed like I was on edge. But this is not related to my work, but to what happened to me on March 5,” says a 25-year-old paramedic Kateryna Halushka.

On March 5, she lost her beloved platoon commander Anton Hevko in the war. He died in a battle near Mariupol from a bullet wound. Before that, he managed to partly destroy a tank. 

At that time, Kateryna, originally from Poltava, worked in Kyiv in the Strategic Communications Department of the Office of the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The death of her beloved and the fact that all her friends were already at the front made her think about leaving her job — she wanted to go to war, too. At work, she was convinced not to quit, but to take a vacation. 

Kateryna took Anton’s bracelet to the front, the one he was wearing at the time of his death, as well as his sweater and checkered shirt. And so she went to save the lives of other fighters. 

“Of course, there are moments, especially after a tiring day, when you want to give it all up, just forget it, hide somewhere, not to see it. But then you remember: I once promised Anton that I would go through everything that comes my way. I promised him I’d be strong. Sometimes I sit down and cry, but then I pull myself together, smile, and continue doing my job,” she adds.

This is not Kateryna’s first experience afield. Three years ago, while completing her studies at the Faculty of History, she took a week-long training course in the volunteer Medical Battalion “Hospitallers”. After that, she went on her first rotation near Mariupol. She explains that you don’t necessarily need to have a medical education to become a paramedic. After all, her main task is to provide first aid, to keep a soldier alive while transferring him from combat positions to the second evacuation line. 

“Until February 24, when there was no heavy fighting and artillery was not used, there were either bullet or mine-shrapnel wounds, so my knowledge was enough to provide first aid and take soldiers to the hospital. Doctors provide professional treatment for the wounded there. Now, very heavy artillery is used and there are extremely complex injuries. In 95% of cases my knowledge is sufficient, because my task is to keep a person alive until they are transferred to professional doctors. So, I have to monitor blood loss and airway patency,” explains Kateryna.

The girl provides assistance to the military of the Armed Forces of Ukraine as a hospitaller volunteer. But she herself has not officially signed a contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine — she is ready to work without a salary and social guarantees. She also values her freedom. She is free chose a position and decide when to take part in a rotation. Although in a war, the concept of “freedom” is very relative even for volunteers. 

“I work 24/7. Sometimes, they don’t call you for 2-3 days, which means that everything is fine with the soldiers. Other times, you may spend the whole day picking up people over and over again. Not so many paramedics work here so we cannot relax, take a day off, turn off our phone or walkie-talkie to get some sleep. And you don’t get much sleep because of the sounds of artillery at night.”

25-річна парамедикиня Катерина Галушка

25-year-old paramedic Kateryna Halushka

Photo: Kateryna Halushka/Facebook

Her paid leave from the General Staff ends in early June. Kateryna will return to Kyiv for a short time, and then she plans to take a vacation with no pay and go back to the front. 

“I’ll be going there for as long as they need me. I know for sure that I will remain in the war until my close friend returns from Mariupol. We still don’t know where he is. The command does not respond to requests, the SSU has been saying nothing for almost a month. I look through russian Telegram channels every day, they post videos of prisoners there. 

The last time I spoke to him was on April 12. He really wanted to get out of that hell of Azovstal. He is one of those people who are ready to die for values, but he also wants to live, especially since he has four injuries and it was difficult for him to continue fighting.” 

Kateryna hopes that he is still in captivity and will be exchanged. For that, I am ready to save the life of a wounded enemy (I haven’t had to do this yet), if later he can be exchanged for a Ukrainian soldier.  

She doesn’t believe in a quick victory. She says that in February she thought that everything would drag on for several months, and now she hopes to flush the enemy out of the Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and Kharkiv regions by the end of the summer.

“And it seems to me that active hostilities in the Donbas will last for a year or two. But compared to previous years, we have become much stronger, we have a lot of experience. We are stronger than them and we can adapt to everything, keep moving forward and win.”

Катерина разом зі своїм другом, бійцем, з яким пропав зв'язок під час перебування на “Азовсталі”

Kateryna together with her friend, a fighter with whom she lost contact when he was at Azovstal

Photo: Kateryna Halushka/Facebook

“Ingvar”: “When you provide medical treatment to a prisoner, it takes a lot of effort to stop yourself from doing something bad to him”

“The fact that you are a paramedic does not mean you don’t participate in hostilities. Yes, there are paramedics in the ambulances who go and pick up the wounded, but that’s not me anymore,” says “Ingvar”, a soldier of the Armed Forces, a paramedic assigned to one of the AFU units. 

Two months before the full-scale war, hromadske had a brief conversation with a 35-year-old man with the call sign “Ingvar” during tactical medicine classes on the outskirts of Kyiv. He taught how to crawl on your back and evacuate the wounded from the battlefield on your own. Then, when asked what were the risks that the capital could become a battlefield, he said that they were “quite high” — the border with Belarus is close, and the local self-proclaimed president actually handed over the country to putin. So, the paramedic urged everyone to get ready to war.

“Ingvar” is an IT specialist originally from Dnipro; he lived near Kyiv, and since 2014 has volunteered in the Donbas. Later, he took courses in tactical medicine and in 2019, together with the “Hospitallers”, went to the front to rescue the military. Between rotations, he worked in the IT field, and on weekends he conducted training in tactical medicine and at the same time studied military tactics and combat.  

“I was not surprised. On the night of February 24, I was asleep, but when it hit, I was already lying on the floor. That is, at the time of the first explosion, I was already between the bed and the floor. On the same day I volunteered to go to war,”  says “Ingvar”. 

This time he signed a contract and joined the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Now, he not only provides first aid on the battlefield, but also fights as a soldier.

“You do the same thinks that the unit does. If your unit has destroyed a lot of enemies, then you are also part of that,” adds “Ingvar”. But his main task is to help the wounded.

Інгвар», солдат Збройних сил, парамедик-супровідник одного з підрозділу ЗСУ, за два місяці до повномасштабної війни

“Ingvar”, a soldier of the Armed Forces, paramedic assigned to one of the units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, two months before a full-scale war

Photo: hromadske

Plus, he thinks that being an official military man gives him better chances of getting out alive if taken in captivity. Since Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War applies to the military.

Comparing his experience as a paramedic before and after a full-scale invasion, he says that there is much more work to be done now.

Because aviation is used, everything is used. Russia has launched its entire war machine against us. Except for nuclear weapons. This is a war of artillery, not a war between two lines of trenches that shoot at each other as it was before.”

He had already had to provide medical assistance even to captured russian soldiers. He admits that saving the enemy is emotionally difficult, but if a russian soldier can be exchanged for one of his own, then it’s worth it. 

When they are captured, they are despicable. They say that they didn’t know anything, that they are conscripts. But in fact, they knew perfectly where they were going, and understood that they were going to kill Ukrainians. This is proved in the documents they signed and the video on their phones, where they happily say that they would burn the Ukrainian farm. And you can see in their eyes that if they had the opportunity to kill you, they would do it. It takes a lot of effort to stop yourself from doing something bad to them”, says “Ingvar”. 

Russian uniform found by “Ingvar” after shelling

Photo: provided to hromadske

You can feel emotional fatigue in “Ingvar’s” voice during conversation. He explains that he has seen a lot of horrors that he had not seen during the previous years of his war experience. 

A missile hit an infrastructure facility very close to him and his unit, enemy planes flew over him, dropping bombs 500 meters away. He saw a torture chamber in one liberated village and heard terrible stories about the rape of children. The main thing that helps him and his fellow soldiers is anger. 

“I know a lot of stories, but I can’t tell you much. In this war the enemy is at war with all the people he sees. Up to the point where he destroys just for fun. And I don’t understand this logic. And I don’t even want to understand it. How can one understand the logic and motives when they put children of the same sex into a car, take them to a camp, rape, kill, bury them there — and then retreat to russia? I don’t want to understand that.”

When asked how long the war will last, he ironically answers: “My psychics are on vacation, even though I predicted that there would be a war of this magnitude.” But he adds that we have “good chances” of winning, because we have enough fighting spirit: “We are not attacking, but defending, and this is an effective stimulus for fighting.”

“Ingvar” next to a destroyed Russian tank

Photo: provided to hromadske

Andriy Kukhar: “It’s emotionally difficult when the ‘Cargo 200’ doesn’t fit in the car”

Dentist by training, Lviv resident Andriy Kukhar with the call sign “Cook gained experience in providing emergency medical care in emergency conditions in 2014 in the Maidan. After the Revolution of Dignity, he created the NGO “White Berets” together with Maidan doctors and started traveling to the Donbas from time to time on rotation to help rescue the wounded. At the same time, the organization offered courses in tactical medicine. 

Later, he bid farewell to dentistry. The dental office was liquidated in the Lviv mental hospital where he had worked and he did not look for a job in a private clinic, because he says he feels uncomfortable to take money from people, or “to shake people down for some cash,” he laughs.

Also, he sais the NGO “White Berets” never collected money during the war, did not publicly issue invoices and provide card numbers to raise money for their front-line needs. Andriy says that during the war years, he made many friends and colleagues who help out with money. And now, he earns money for his family, working in the IT sector. 

“On February 24, I was in Lviv. Because I had to work, to provide for a family with two children. On the very first day, I packed my backpack and went to my friends from the battalion that our NGO had been cooperating with since 2016, I told them that I needed to go to the front, and they took me with them,” recalls Andriy.

He did not sign a contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine, so he does not sit in one place and performs different tasks.

“You come on one rotation and the command asks you to take a position of a medic, because there is no one to fill it. Another time you sit in dugouts or trenches together with everyone else. Another time, they asked to cover them during evacuation (i.e. collect the wounded by car),” says Kukhar about his versatility. 

Парамедик зі Львова Андрій Кухар

Paramedic from Lviv Andriy Kukhar

Photo: Andriy Kukhar/Facebook

The war after February 24 is different from what it had been before, says Andrey. Now, heavy artillery is mostly used, so doctors see lots of concussions and deep injuries. It happened that we gathered a dozen of ‘Cargo 300’ in a few hours. 

“The most difficult emotions during this time? When I went home, I came back, and my fellow soldier was no longer there. And it happened more that once. They died. Or when you load the bodies into the car in the evening, and they all don’t fit,” says Andriy. 

But there are also stories that are invigorating: “When our people come and say that they have dismantled an enemy tank”.

Andriy does not believe that the war will end sometime soon. He says that there is no real progress on either side, so “everyone will dig in like in 2015, and we will sit like that for a long time”. But the man is sure that sooner or later Ukraine will definitely win. 

Why do I believe in victory? Well, it’s like believing in God: you don’t have to prove that God exists, you just believe. We must also believe in Ukraine. We know that we will win. Freedom is earned through blood. It’s just that this fight has been postponed for 30 years. We are learning to be Ukrainians, learning to appreciate freedom, if, unfortunately, not everyone has been able to learn this in 30 years.

/By Maryana Pyetsukh