"I told my relatives where I was when I had been at the front line for a week"
26-year-old Ivanka Lemeshko is from the town of Rozhyshche in Volyn region. Before the full-scale invasion, the girl worked as a nurse in a Kyiv clinic. However, almost nine months ago, she joined the volunteer medical battalion "Hospitallers" and now rescues people at the front.
Volunteering in my hometown was not enough for me
I worked as a nurse in an ophthalmological clinic in Kiyv.
On the evening of February 24, I was just about to go home to Rozhyshche. But at night I was awakened by the roar of the first explosions. With the thought "God, if only it wasn't a war” I fell asleep again. And then my friend said: "Ivanka, wake up. It has begun."
I wanted to stay in Kyiv with my colleagues, be useful, and go to the hospital to work, but I understood that my family would never get over it. They insisted: "Come home, don't wait for the evening."
I couldn't find a place for myself at home, I wanted to be useful. So I decided to find a volunteer organization that I could join. I came across "Self-Defense" in Rozhyshche. They wrote down my contact details and said they would call me back if they needed anything. I realized that this could take a long time. Therefore, I went to Lutsk, bought medicines (bandages, painkillers), returned in the evening, and said: "That's it, I am joining you today".
With humanitarian aid from abroad, a lot of medicines arrived that needed to be sorted. I also gave first aid instructions. I have never done this before, but I studied the issue and started.
Two or three months passed like this. And then I realized that I want and can do more. I decided to look for more opportunities. On Instagram, I saw a photo of a colleague who joined the Hospitallers. I wrote to them, and they told me to wait. Meanwhile, I tried to get into other units. Finally, within a week, I received a message from the Hospitaliers: "Come to the training on May 2." It is fortunate that it happened so quickly because now even doctors are on the waiting list for three or four months.
The "Hospitallers" is a Ukrainian volunteer medical battalion that provides first medical and paramedical care and evacuates wounded from the most dangerous areas of the front line.
I told my family that I was going to work, but I was going to the training. There was no point in telling the truth because they definitely wouldn't let me go.
At that time, the training was held according to a shortened four-day program: there was a great need for doctors. We learned not only the algorithm for providing medical care, but also the handling of weapons, actions during shelling, and other dangerous situations.
Then we had three days to pack the car. We got clothes, shoes, medicines, consumables, and equipment. In the middle of May, we went to the Donetsk region for our first rotation.
When the wounded screams, things are not so bad
Going into the rotation for the first time, of course, was a little scary, because you don’t know what awaits you. It was lucky that in the first two days, the wounded were not brought up - there was time to get used to and prepare. Although this does not happen very often.
Sometimes we are told what happened to the wounded so that the medics can get the necessary medicines. But at the first call, there was no such information - complete ignorance. And this is also the first rotation for the entire crew - only the paramedic has previously participated in several evacuations in the Kyiv region.
I always try to keep a cool head. If I think: "He has a wife, children, mother...", I will not be able to concentrate on my work. When you see a wounded person, you turn off everything else in your head and start working.
And the fact that the wounded are screaming is not bad at all. It is worse if the person is silent and faints. There are more reasons to worry.
Without the wounded, there are two, maximum three days a week. When we have such free time, we practice putting on bandages and tamponades, inserting catheters, as well as talking about duties, so that everything is coordinated as much as possible during the actual evacuation. Before leaving, everyone should know how to act, for example, to put on a splint, get medicine or monitor breathing. For the first time, we were confused and because of this, there were minimal delays. Therefore, roles were clearly assigned later, and this approach proved itself well.
Usually there are one, five, or even ten wounded per day. The maximum for half a day was 18 or 20.
In front-line villages, we help not only wounded but also civilians. Elderly people mostly come for medicine for high blood pressure and joint pain. We also treat the wounds of injured dogs and cats and give them flea and worm remedies. If possible, we take them out and find them a new home in Sumy, Kyiv, and other cities, because it is also dangerous for animals to stay there.
Our working day never ends
Hospitallers work as a team of two crews: a casevac and a medevac. A casevac is a pickup truck stationed about five kilometers from the war zone and can reach the most challenging areas. Its crew provides first aid. The medevac is an ambulance where the wounded are transferred from the casevac. They deliver more specialized help here. I work in a medevac – aside from the standard check of bleeding and breathing, we connect systems, oxygen, if necessary, and put in catheters. We are stationed about ten kilometers from the war zone. The crew consists of a driver, a doctor, a paramedic, and a firefighter.
We go in rotation to the same area because we already know the units, roads, and evacuation points there. We don't spend extra time getting familiar with the area and adapting to it. However, we always want to be wherever there is a lot of work and our help is needed.
We don't have a clear daily schedule. We don't work from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; we work around the clock. We listen to walkie-talkies and respond. We go as soon as we hear: "The 300th (means wounded)".
I am pretty thin and look younger than I actually am. Of course, I had to deal with prejudices because of my looks. When I arrived for my first rotation, many older soldiers asked me: "Girl, what are you doing here? Go home." I wanted to ask the same thing in return. But others were friendly overall.
Between rotations, I rest only a few days
I work according to a schedule: a month in rotation, and a month at home. I have already been in three rotations.
I need two weeks after my return to adjust. At night, I sleep very poorly, I get up "on a call" and look for my backpack. For a week, it feels like I'm still in rotation, then I adapt a bit, and then I prepare for the next rotation.
There are only a few days or a week in between these conditions. And some people go in rotations every two weeks. They probably don't feel that they have been home at all.
When I return from the war zone, I always get my nails done and dye my hair, so I don't look like a homeless person. Then I meet my friends, help the "Self-Defense", and give first aid classes.
Volunteers from the Hospitallers battalion don't have salaries. So I work intensely for at least two weeks between rotations and then visit my parents.
I need support, not preaching
When I first went to the war zone, I told my family I was in a hospital in the Kyiv region. I confessed only a week later.
At first, no one understood or supported me, which was very important. When you work with the wounded, you don't have to think about how your family is doing. My mom still doesn't want me to go, always hoping that I will change my mind. I understand that parents are worried. So I text and call them whenever possible. Although sometimes there is no connection, or there is so much work that I don't have time.
It's annoying when people say: "They will manage without you. Let someone else work" or "You're a girl. What do you need it for?" Such statements are disrespectful, and I don't need them. I usually answer: "Go there yourself and see how much work there is. Especially in critical areas."
Other friends, on the contrary, started helping, and many new ones appeared. The war phases out the wrong people and gives you great ones instead. I am grateful to have many amazing people around me.
This year, I've started treating problems much easier. I realized that everything could be solved one way or another. I also have a different attitude to time now: when you think about something, you do it, you don't put it off. If someone asks you to go for a walk, you go, even if you're tired, because you might not be able to do it later. Someone says: "You don't smile so often anymore," while others tell me, "You haven't changed; you're still the same cheerful person."
You are here today and gone tomorrow. You have to enjoy every minute. So, despite being busy between rotations, I go to the Carpathian mountains or visit my friends in Lviv for a day or two to distract myself.
I don't know what will happen after the victory, and I don't have any plans for that time. I live here and now.
I don't know how many more rotations I'll be working. As many as necessary. #Hospitallers #Paramedics #UkraineParamedics #HospitallersUkraine #HospitallersUK #HelpHospitallers #Ukraine #SupportUkraine #HelpUkraine #StandWithUkraine #HelpUkraineNow