Norwegian volunteer reveals her reasons for joining the fight against Russian aggression

26 May, 01:15 PM
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Sandra Andersen Eira, 35, has left behind a political career in Norway for military medicine (Photo:Gunnar Bratthammer / NRK)

Sandra Andersen Eira, 35, has left behind a political career in Norway for military medicine (Photo:Gunnar Bratthammer / NRK)

Hundreds of foreign volunteers have come to Ukraine to help the country defend itself from a full-scale Russian invasion. 

Most are driven by a desire to contribute to the defense of Ukraine’s democracy, and the preservation of life. NV interviewed Sandra Andersen Eira from Norway, who left her previous life as a legislator and fisherman to fight for Ukraine.

The following interview has been lightly edited for grammar.

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Why did you decide to support Ukraine?

I have never been to Ukraine before, but I was living in the north of Norway near the Russian border. We all knew the war was coming and most of us, probably, have been preparing for years. For us it was a moral obligation to help because the last time there was a big war on our continent – it was a war in my country (Norway was occupied by Germany from 1940-1945) and many countries stepped up to help us. Today we are doing the same for Ukraine.

We all have individual reasons to join this war. Most fighters choose to return to combat because it’s what they know and what they are trained to do. For me it’s different. Until last year, I was a local parliamentary representative in Norway, and also worked as a fisherman and had my own business. I had a very safe, comfortable, and good life at home, but felt that all my life has been leading up to this decision. All my friends are military, so being a combat medic – it’s all I wanted to do.

I arrived in Ukraine at the beginning of March. My combat unit was the first one to be deployed by the International Legion up to the northern area of Kyiv and helped to liberate it. We were in Bucha and Irpin and after that we went down to the southern front of the country. 

 Was it a hard decision to come and fight for Ukraine? What does your family at home think about it?

I did not need any thinking: I saw what was going on and 24 hours later I was at a military base in Ukraine. It was a very rapid decision, but I was never in doubt - it was right for me to do. Nevertheless, at the start I didn’t tell almost anybody: I didn’t want anyone to have unnecessary worries, as they may disturb me and I can lose focus on my job. So most found out where I am from the media, when the month passed. However, nobody was surprised. They are just hoping and praying that I will come home safe.

 You are the only woman in your combat unit now. How does it feel?

I got used to it during my life as a fisherman in Norway. It is the same - all boys and me. I like it and have no issues with that, as long as I can do what I need to do.

The Ukrainian troops I met are really amazing and they have treated me like a queen. I heard before that Eastern European boys treat girls with a lot of respect and here I had a chance to testify to that: I was stuck with Ukrainian troops for days under bomb fire and I was never treated better in my entire life.

Also, I remember, when it was cold they gave me my first cup of tea. I never had it before Ukraine, because thought I did not like it. But I surprisingly found that I do.

Even under the bombs, Ukrainian troops gave me chocolates, candies and roses on International Women’s Day. For sure, they also taught me the main Ukrainian phrases like «Slava Ukraini! Heroyam slava!». It’s the most important one, because people we meet need to know that we are friendly.

What did you know about Ukraine before and what impressed you here the most?

In my profession up in Norway, I met many Eastern European people – from Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania. Therefore, the culture is not new to me, but coming to Ukraine during wartime is definitely very special to me. The civilians are amazing here because they have to step up and do a lot to help us. Even though they don’t have anything - they give us everything. I am very impressed by how they are handling this, how they are thanking us, how they trying to show how they much appreciate our help.

 And what is the hardest part of your experience in Ukraine?

That is a lot of negatives in war, for sure: war crimes, deaths, targeting of civilians, hard combat and people who are taking advantage of war. Sometimes it is easy to lose motivation and it becomes hard to remember why you are fighting, and why you keep doing it for free.

We have to pay from our own pockets to be here - for equipment, food, fuel and whatever else. If we run out of money - we can’t keep fighting.

So sometimes, you can be frustrated and tired because of all that is going on on the political level. But, I hope it will change and Westerners will help better in the future.

 So what are your personal plans for the future?

We will stay here for as long as we can and as long as we are needed. We see how the war goes: hopefully, it will finish soon, but realistically we know that whenever politics are involved - there is no quick quit. Therefore, we are seeing day-by-day and week-by-week how it goes – no long-term plans.

Still, I haven’t been home since the end of February, so maybe I will leave Ukraine for a couple of weeks – to take a breath, resupply, and then go back to the front.

On other hand, I made a lot of friends among Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. That is why I definitely plan to come back also in peaceful times, just to celebrate life, eat good food and enjoy the sights, which, as I heard, are beautiful here in the summer.

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