Ukrainian army medics fight to save lives near frontline

NEAR VUHLEDAR, Ukraine, (Reuters): In a dingy medical outpost near eastern Ukraine’s front lines, army medic Viktor battles to save lives on a daily basis.

Nearly a year into Russia’s invasion, fighting now amounts to attritional duels of artillery and infantry assaults, with neither side making significant gains.

The costs of that deadly grind are clear to Viktor’s team of seven medics and six nurses as it toils away, hemmed in by racks of medical supplies and portable heaters, at this “stabilisation point” in the Donetsk region, where battles are fierce.

“The wounded are brought here, we provide treatment, stabilise them and restore vital functions, and send (them) to the next stage of evacuation – to hospitals,” said Viktor, who declined to give his full name.

Describing the feeling of being unable to save a life, Viktor, a gynaecologist before the war, said: “It’s the worst thing you can imagine.”

The number of patients brought in – up to 25 per day – has risen sharply over the past two weeks, he said, the vast majority wounded by shrapnel.

But bullet wounds are becoming more frequent, a sign that fighting is increasingly at close quarters.

Evacuating soldiers from the frontline, via one of the team’s five drivers, usually takes between 20 and 40 minutes, but the wounded sometimes find themselves waiting up to two hours if fighting doesn’t let up.

That was the case on a recent day in late February, when soldiers Ruslan and Serhiy were brought in for treatment at the heavily sandbagged facility after being fired on by a Russian tank.

Neither had life-threatening injuries, though Ruslan’s right foot was mangled. Viktor’s team, which belongs to the 72nd Mechanized Brigade, believes he bore the brunt of the hit, helping ensure Serhiy walked away with only a broken arm.

Adrenaline helps keep the medical team going and enables them to cope with the almost constant flow of wounded soldiers, including some Russians who are later exchanged for Ukrainian prisoners.

“This is our job,” said Viktor from inside their outpost, which is festooned with Ukrainian flags and drawings and thank-you notes from children across the country.

“We know what we signed up for.”