This is the third of a series of interviews about the war in Ukraine, which began February 24, 2022, with the Russian invasion. Laura Swart interviewed doctors, nurses, hospital patients, security personnel, humanitarian workers, and pastors. The speakers are not identified for security reasons.
Part Three. War Medicine
I woke up in the morning and went outside to get my car. I heard something flying over my house. It was an explosion, a bomb. My house started to fall. Fire was inside my house, and I was outside. I wanted to bring some things with me, especially documents. So I ran inside my house even though it was on fire.
The fire grew when I went in the house. The fire was spreading around the building very, very fast. Neighbors started to help me to pour water on the fire, but all of my house was destroyed.
My neighbors gave me shelter, but I had very deep burns on my face and on my leg and the upper part of my back. And I felt pain. I called an ambulance and told them my address, and the ambulance said, We cannot go here because it’s a very dangerous region and there’s usually bombing there.
I went into the street and looked for cars that could help me get to the Kyiv regional hospital. I got a ride and stayed in the hospital for two or three days. But they could not help me. They gave me different pills for pain, but they weren’t helpful. I can’t understand it. Maybe there wasn’t enough medicine for all the patients. So many people had burns and bone injuries as a result of the bombs.
I went to the rail station, and there I started to look for trains going to the west of our country to the safe cities. I found a train to Lviv. And when I got out of the train, I met doctors at the train station who looked at my burns and decided to bring me to a mobile hospital. After that they took care of me.
I lived in one shelter and changed to another shelter because our government provides a shelter for refugees only for a few days, maybe for a week. After that, they must leave and find another shelter or an apartment because every day more and more people come to the west of our country. I met a friend in Lviv that helped me so now I have a room. It’s not very big, but it’s good for me. But I only have my documents and I haven’t got anything of my things; I haven’t enough clothes or toothbrush or anything like this.
And I will not be with my mother in Kyiv for Easter. I spend holidays with my mother. I bring her food and I feel comfortable with her because I love her.
I go to the emergency field hospital every day for treatment. Every day the doctors and nurses come and pray for my health because I have really deep burns on my legs and face, and I can’t move the muscles on my face. But I started reading the Bible. Every day I read, and it is very helpful. I feel good, peaceful. And every night before I go to sleep, I pray. Now my belief is stronger. It’s stronger than it was before.
At the railway station, we have a room with medical supplies and medical professionals. We have a health team of volunteers, medical students, and doctors. There are psychologists, pediatric surgeons, anesthesiologists, also internal medicine specialists. One boy had diabetes, type one, and he needed insulin. He had a ketoacidosis when he came to our medical room. He had lost consciousness. There was an air alarm, so an ambulance couldn’t get to us and bring this child to the hospital, so we decided to treat him right there. Fortunately, we had insulin. We have sodium chloride, we have all the medication we need, and thanks to that, we saved his life.
I was born in the north of Russia. My mother was Russian—she was a doctor. My father is a doctor as well, and my older brother is a doctor. So I grew up in a family of doctors, and I tell people that I am a doctor by blood. That’s my joke.
My father served in the Russian army, and a few years after I was born, we moved to the Vinnytsia region because my father was originally from there. My parents started working in a small hospital in a village eighty kilometers from Vinnytsia. So I grew up there. My mother also worked in a boarding school with orphans, and I remember my first meeting with American missionaries. They came to the boarding school and gave provided treatment and gifts. I always remember that. So now I’m trying to be useful wherever I’m needed.
In 2016, my wife joined an organization called Dental Hope, and now we are the leaders of the organization. We focus on orphans, low-income families, large families, and people in need. We go to different towns and serve people. Since the war, we focus on refugees.
I can’t treat people’s teeth—even if I am a doctor by blood. But I think if I need to go back to school and choose another major, probably I will choose to be a doctor.
My mother, my father, my grandparents, and my little sister are in the /west of Ukraine. So they are safe. Living together without me. I was at home for Christmas. The next time I’ll be home is Easter. I’m working as an infectious disease nurse with patients who are suffering from COVID and from other diseases. I’m busy, but I like to be busy, especially now because it’s hard to be without work and just read the news; it’s very hard for people who don’t have work.
I’m good today. But yesterday, we were bombed here in Lviv and eight people were killed. Also, one child was injured; he lost his finger. This child immigrated from Kharkiv with his mother, and they were living in housing for refugees from the east. We have had bombs in Lviv before, but it was only military buildings before. Yesterday they bombed a house and a tire shop, car repair, you know what I mean? Eight were killed. Eight people between twenty-five and forty-five years old. And we have eleven people who are in the hospital now. And three of us have conditions that are very severe. The people just were at work in the morning. Up until now, the west of the country has been pretty safe.
I’ve been living in Lviv for six years because I’m studying at the National Medical University. I’ll be an intern next year, so I will live in Lviv for a long time. I want to be an anesthesiologist. I like to work with my hands and I like to keep a lot of things under control. So it will be a great specialty for me. But I hope that all my dreams come true.
At the train station, we organized medical and psychological help for refugees. We work in pairs. We are helping people who seem very stressed or anxious; we just come to them and ask questions: Are you okay? Do you need any help? And if they need any help, we try to provide it, you know, to help with their medications or to talk—just small talk, you know—sometimes it helps. I saw a woman arguing with people in the line for the train for Poland. She was really nervous. So our workers, a psychologist, a therapist, came to her and started to talk with her. And then she started to cry. She was nervous because she was tired. She needed support. She lost her home and everything, and she’s like, I don’t know. I’m just going somewhere. I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t have a purpose. I don’t know where to go or where to stay. I’m just going abroad, just to get out of the country. And our therapist tried to encourage her and tell her everything’s going to be OK, she’s doing the right thing.
Laura Swart is a novelist, poet, and playwright. She has taught creative and critical writing to adults for over thirty years, encouraging students to find and raise their writing voices. Her humanitarian work around the world—most recently in Ethiopia and Ukraine—have shaped her thinking, her teaching, and her writing.
From Laura Swart: My profound thanks go to the men and women who shared their lives and their stories with me. Thank you also to those who translated during interviews. Finally, Borys Sydoruk, chairman of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation, spent several hours teaching me about all things Ukraine. Thank you.
If you would like to support Ukrainians who are helping Ukrainians, consider donating to Dental Hope, which provides free dental work to victims of the war throughout Ukraine.
[These interviews were further edited and arranged by ACM‘s S.L. Wisenberg.]