Meet the Defenders of Ukraine: (1) At the 25th Airborne Brigade Casualty Treatment Center – KyivPost
It was by no means expected that our visit to the unit’s Casualty Treatment Center (CPC) would see wounded Ukrainian soldiers coming out of the fighting line.
But the Airborne Brigade told us we could take just about any picture we wanted and interview just about anyone. And I told them that what the Kyiv Post wanted to do was see the enlisted soldiers do their job, if possible.
So when the ambulances delivered two groups of wounded infantry to the Brigade CPC and the doctors and nurses swung into action, Kyiv Post photographer Christopher Occhicone and I were there as observers. We tried to stay away.
The 25th Brigade CPC is on the ground floor, several rooms in a government building used by medical personnel to treat and treat most, but not all, of its soldiers with sufficient combat damage to be removed from the line. head on to receive serious medical help.
Truly serious cases, requiring complicated surgery or other risky life-saving work, are transported by ambulance directly to a city hospital reinforced by military doctors and nurses.
Chris and I learned that the city hospital is fully capable of treating 99% of the worst combat injuries, even though some of the equipment is old.
At the CPC where we were, a team of nurses and doctors are treating soldiers who are injured but – probably – not life-threatening. The day we were there, about ten kilometers to the east, a powerful RF munition (or munitions) hit combat line positions held by infantrymen of the 25th Brigade. A total of eight men were evacuated by ambulance.
The CPC consists of four or five cribs arranged in a well-lit room, with shelves along the walls stocked with medical supplies. Each bed has an IV stand, and on each IV stand is an empty water bottle cut in half to hold a spare IV bag.
On each of the four was a Ukrainian soldier, each man shirtless. They were mostly young, in their twenties, but one man appeared to be in his thirties and the other was old enough to have a gray beard.
All of them were dirty and disoriented, but other than the bruises, I couldn’t see any visible wounds on them. All of them seemed, to a greater or lesser degree, fearful and confused, not much different from how a person deals with a serious car accident. A nurse told me that all four were concussion cases.
They all seemed to be in pain, and one man, he looked like the most affected, was rolling from side to side and moaning. From time to time he looked around the room. I guess it was instinct to seek help.
He had blue eyes. It’s hard to make eye contact with someone in pain and say “do something for me if you can,” and your job is to watch.
But it’s much, much harder to be crushed by an explosion powerful enough to throw a grown man through the air, rip the clothes off his back, and leave him weak and hoping very, very much that a stranger will help him.
Two or three doctors were in the background, but a nursing team of three women in their 30s and 40s, and one in her 20s, did most of the work. Each man was gently interrogated, and if he still had any clothes above his waist, they were removed.
A nurse examined each man, particularly the stomach and chest, for signs of damaged internal organs or bleeding. Modern equipment to scan a patient like x-ray machine or ultrasound machine was not in the room.
The hardest-hit soldier was given an electrocardiogram by a nurse using a 1950s Soviet-era heart monitor system with rubber bulbs as suction cups to attach the individual listening sensors to the man’s chest.
A nurse told me that, if necessary, a wounded soldier can have scans using modern equipment at the city hospital. The primary function of the CDC, she said, was to care for and stabilize injured soldiers who, most likely, mostly need rest and supervision to recover from whatever injured them in combat.
At present, 25th Brigade CDC mostly fixes bones, recovers shrapnel that hasn’t penetrated too deeply into soldiers’ bodies, and frequently deals with concussion cases. .
After checking for damaged internal organs, the primary treatment for the concussion appeared to be intravenous painkillers. It seemed to work quickly and the soldiers told the nurses, who checked every few minutes, that the pain was decreasing.
Meanwhile, nurses checked the ears for blast damage and repeated these checks to see if the hearing loss returned. In some cases it was fast, in others not.
The way the nurses worked was not like in the movies. No one was running, no one was shouting the Ukrainian version of “Stat!” “, medical supplies were not thrown everywhere, no soldier had suffered so much that he had to be physically restrained, strangers were not ordered to leave the room, there was no of dramatic fumbling on the part of the pretty young nurse to put an IV in the arm of a handsome soldier.
The work was smooth. It was quite obvious that these women had treated wounded soldiers many times before. They worked methodically, step by step, and constantly talked to each other: “this man needs to have his bowels checked”, “this man is good to go to the recovery room”, “make sure to note that this man rings in his ears.
Later I found out that the 25th Brigade had been fighting since the first day of the war and was almost constantly taking casualties. CPC staff can request a day off, but very rarely does anyone take one.
I spoke with an ambulance driver named Oleksandr, a reservist drafted into service in April. He drives a civilian Peugeot ambulance donated by a civilian group sending aid to Ukraine. He apologized for the condition of the vehicle, but the roads in the area, he explained, are extremely bad, ambulances have to drive as fast as possible, and it quickly demolishes anything whose wheels are not on it. fully capable of serious off-roading.
He told me that the pick-up and delivery of the next four injured, also concussed by an explosion, went reasonably well. Fortunately, his run back from the line of combat to the CDC encountered no Russian artillery fire.
Sometimes Oleksandr has to throw a gauntlet of explosions to keep the wounded away from the line of battle. One ambulance I saw had personal body armor hanging over the driver and passenger window to protect the driver from shrapnel.
Civilian ambulances donated by Ukrainian and Western aid groups save lives, Oleksandr told me, but their patient compartments are not equipped with any armour.
But the visit didn’t go without one of those strange coincidences of war.
One of the soldiers, a tall man in his twenties with a curly black beard, was a little better off than the others. He seemed to recover quickly, and while the painkillers were doing their job, he was up and talking to one of the doctors.
He kept looking at me, which reporters get used to as a stranger among people in distress. He finally called me and said he was pretty sure he knew me.
We compared notes, and yes, it turns out that in the late 2000s he had served in the 36th marine brigade when I was an American member of the OSCE international mission monitoring the conflict Donbass in the Mariupol sector.
Our OSCE patrols passed through Marine positions from time to time, I frequently led the patrols and when I did, I was the OSCE guy who ended up talking to the Marines.
Apparently, I had passed through his checkpoint or questioned his commander several times. I didn’t remember him.
His name is Ruslan. Now Ruslan is in the 25th Airborne Brigade and I work for the Kyiv Post.
After the second group of four injured people were treated, the youngest nurse, a 20-year-old woman named Olena, did not rest but instead sat with the head nurse and one doctors, and passed the personal examination details of each of the injured, making sure that all was well.
There had been some minor discrepancies in the casualty information reported by the field to the CPC.
The entire brigade’s executive officer, a lieutenant colonel who during the day had proven to be quite a good-natured man with a well-developed sense of humor and a relaxed approach to command, took the radio and the phone and said harshly subordinates on the other end to get details of the injured.
“The 25th Brigade demands that casualty information be accurate, first time, without exception,” he said.
Ruslan was alone when I left.
The doctor told me he would be fine after resting for a few days, and there was a warm building with food and warmth and plenty of support staff to take care of him, before it never wraps.
The chances of us ever seeing each other again are virtually nil.
We shook hands, wished each other luck, told each other to stay safe, and parted ways.