Former lawmaker Yehor Firsov, who is now on the eastern front, told NV what it is like to be working as a medic on the front lines.
Since early May, Yegor Firsov, former MP and former acting head of the State Environmental Inspectorate, has been staying in a place that has often been "hot" for the past few years – in Avdiyivka, a Ukrainian outpost a few dozen kilometers from Donetsk and Makiyivka occupied in 2014. The war did not stop there, and now fierce fighting is underway around the town.
Having no medical education, Firsov took courses in tactical medicine and went as a tactical medic to the front in Donetsk Oblast, where he provides first aid to wounded soldiers. He sees blood, wounds, and death every day.
Firsov came to Kyiv for a few days, where he told NV about the hard work he had chosen for himself.
Here is his story.
From the territorial defense to doctors
On Feb. 24, I was at home on Kyiv's left bank. I woke up from a friend's call who told me that the war had begun. I heard some explosions.
I evacuated my family by noon. In the afternoon, I went to enlist in the territorial defense.
I served in Kyiv's Holosiivskyi territorial defense by early April. But despite the fact that I was in the territorial defense, I felt confused. I was very sorry that eight years of war had passed, and I had never learned to fight.
After the Russians withdrew from Bucha, we went there on the first day. It was dark in Bucha, the bodies were lying in the streets. We walked with the sappers: it was deserted, somewhere the gate was swaying in the wind, the dog was barking. You enter a yard, you think to ask some questions to the people who live there, but there are three dead there. And you understand that they've been lying there for three-four weeks. And you're probably the first person to see them killed.
But even that wasn't the worst thing in Bucha, but the stories of local residents whose relatives, friends and children were killed.
On the first day, a woman told us how her daughter was shot in front of her eyes. She had to dig a hole and bury her daughter in the yard — her feet protruded from this grave.
I probably heard hundreds of such stories in a week. And not even because I wanted to hear them. People ran out into the street, saw the soldier and told him everything that hurt them.
In the first days of my stay in Bucha, I realized that being confused is the worst thing that can happen. And I realized that I had to go to the front. But as who and where? I started writing to everyone I know among the military. After all, when you decide to go to war and take part in hostilities, it's very important to find yourself on the battlefield.
If you come there unprepared, demotivated, and know nothing, no one will mess with you, you will just be a burden.
Few people want to get a comrade-in-arms who knows nothing, does not know, and is not ready for battle. I knew that there was a shortage of tactical medics in Avdiyivka and went to study: tactical medicine, evacuation under fire, and medical care under fire. It was just a theory at that time.
In fact, I come from Donetsk, and my grandmother lived in Adviyivka. I know every corner and every hole there, every building and basement. I could do more good there than if I went to an unfamiliar place.
I arrived on May 3, immediately during the shelling of the Avdiyivka coke plant: 10 civilians were killed and 20 wounded.
I arrived, registered with the military enlistment office, and alerted the command that I was here. I found common ground with the command, with the military and civil administration and began to work. That's how I became a tactical doctor.
I provide first aid if a soldier or civilian is injured. We are contacted by walkie-talkie and we leave, stabilize or take wounded soldiers to the hospital if possible.
Previously, I had nothing to do with medicine. If I had been told three or four months ago that I would be involved in medicine, I would not have believed it.
The task of a tactical doctor is, so to speak, to have the knowledge and ability to provide first aid quickly in 20 different situations.
It's about shrapnel wounds, bleeding, conсussions, broken limbs, etc. You have to understand what you need to do in such situations.
Many people are surprised that I work as a tactical doctor, because I have no medical education. In principle, it does not matter if you have studied the material well and, most importantly, if you are not afraid.
You are not afraid of blood, you are not afraid of wounds and screams. And it's important if you know how to find common ground with the wounded.
You need to talk to the wounded all the time, about anything, even forced him to speak, to fight for his life, to understand that he is wounded.
I was reassured when I came across the guys there: the gunners, the infantrymen, the drivers. I understood that the other people you work with probably have combat experience of 2014-2015, but most of their lives they have not been involved in war.
These are tractor drivers, teachers, IT specialists, and people from all spheres. But now they have joined the army, taken up arms, and are fighting against the enemy. In war, you have to find yourself on the battlefield, even though you were a lawyer, a history teacher, or an ecologist.
During the time that I have been working in Avdiyivka, I cannot say that the situation in the town has changed significantly. Constant waves of shelling. Sometimes there is a lull, but the longest of them may have been half a day. The waves of shelling increase, then decrease.
In late May, the shelling began everywhere. There is no neighborhood in Adviyivka or village in the Avdiyivka area that wasn't hit.
And here you must understand the following.
It's psychologically difficult to sometimes work with the wounded you know. When I arrived in Avdiyivka, I wrote to all my old friends: it's "hot" now, but it will be even "hotter," get out of here and pick up your relatives, the sooner the better.
You cannot protect homes with your presence. As a rule, many have parents left in Avdiyivka, elderly people. I still have no idea why they did not leave. They are not pro-Russian and do not wait for the Russians. But here's the mentality: I'm here, this is my home, I won't go. But the town is constantly under shelling, there is no water, no gas, no electricity, no communication, no shops, nothing. More than 20,000 people used to live in the town, now it's hard to say how many, but it’s a few thousand. People cook on fire and survive as they can.
The presence of civilians in the town greatly hinders both the military and us, the doctors. First, we have to react. Everything is clear when a soldier is wounded, he was doing his job. If a civilian is wounded, of course, you provide first aid, but somewhere inside you are wondering: why you didn't leave, why we are risking our lives because you just didn't want to leave?
A 27-year-old girl was recently killed, she left behind a 3-year-old child. Such cases occur weekly. There are deaths every day. And every week there are cases when young people die. People from the front lines should understand that it's impossible to live in settlements with combat status, no one can guarantee your safety. They should have left a long time ago.
In Avdiyivka, civilians are taken to the morgue in the case of death. Refrigerators do not work there, the smell is terrible. I saw my colleague start vomiting when the morgue door opened. Artillery fire began the first time we arrived at this morgue. We're standing in the morgue and can’t decide where it’s worse – on the street, where they are shooting, or here, where there is nothing to breathe and everything is covered in blood.
But we have to deal with such work – to stack dead civilians. There are already cases in Avdiyivka, as it was in Mariupol and Chernihiv when the bodies are already lying on the streets. They're lying close to the contact line, no one can evacuate them and there are no relatives who could bury them. They're just lying there.
When we first arrived in Avdiyivka, we were shown where we would live. And 20 minutes later, we were told that there were wounded. And we left in such a tense state.
And here's how theory differs from practice: in theory everything is calm, you have to provide first aid to one person. But we are coming, there are five wounded and two of them are in serious condition.
And it's very important not to be confused, to brace yourself, to understand to whom and when to help. If you do not hold on, if you get emotional, you can help with nothing.
If you're a little "frozen" in a good way, you can be trusted – wounded soldiers appreciate it.
And, frankly speaking, you get used to this, because you can't do anything without it. This is the daily flow, the daily blood.
But I was still in a daze the first two weeks in Avdiyivka. Constant arrivals and departures of missiles. Later, when you have sharpened your skills, you understand your function and what you need to do – it's completely different, you feel your mission.
A missile fell in this way, it can kill in this way, but it's a completely different approach and it's not just in tactical medicine, but everywhere. Shrapnel wounds are 90% of the injuries among the military.
Everything else includes concussions, sometimes broken limbs, but, fortunately, it is less. Blood loss is 90% of deaths. Blood loss is a very difficult story because you only have a few minutes to stop it. If you didn't stop it, it's death.
War is a terrible thing, scary. But when you know your function, I can't say that it's not so scary anymore, but at least it becomes clearer.
My work depends not only on medical care, a lot depends on the car and the road. You drive, a lot of shrapnel can damage the tires. The first car we drove was a car of volunteers from Poland, which had already traveled a lot and was in poor condition. And this is also one of the problems.
If you need to travel to a hospital for about an hour, you provide medical care in 10-15 minutes. The rest of the time is the worst. After all, the most important task is to have time to bring in the wounded. If you brought him in alive, you did your job.
On the way, you hold the wounded man's hand and say everything. The main thing is that he must also tell you something. The most important is to speak Ukrainian, because there is a concussion, loss of consciousness, the soldier regains consciousness and may think that he is in captivity. He woke up, does not understand what is happening, people are speaking Russian around him and he may behave inappropriately.
There were cases when there is a wounded soldier, you try to talk to him, to understand his health condition, whether he is conscious or not. You ask what his name is, he answers: Sashko (Oleksandr). You ask whether he is fine, and Sashko starts singing a song "Oh, the Red Viburnum in the Meadow" to show that he is alive.
And you understand that everything will be fine.
Unfortunately, not all wounded soldiers can be saved. When we first time could not bring the wounded to a hospital and he died on the way, I could not sleep at night. My colleagues calmed me down, realizing that it was not our fault, but still it's difficult.
Psychologically, it puts pressure on you and if keeps going through your head that you could have done something different. You have to give up and let go of the situation, and this is the hardest thing when someone dies almost in your arms. You feel that something went wrong, that you failed and did not complete the mission.
In Kyiv, you treat loss figures as statistics. There is news about 100 dead and 500 wounded. No last names, no names, no emotions. In Avdiyivka, everything is completely different. If a missile fell down somewhere and there are several dead, you understand who these people are, their age, how long they served in the army, their status. Even if you didn't know them personally, your comrades will tell you their story. That's why you don't treat it just like three dead. These three are right in front of you.
Comrades-in-arms are very important at the front. The atmosphere at war is special – it's a systematic care for each other. If you come from a trip, your friends will immediately offer you food. If there are any problems, you do not understand something, they will help you immediately.
If you have no cigarettes, they will give you their cigarettes. In peacetime, I have never seen such care and never felt such a shoulder anywhere and in any other place.
This is not factory work. This is a 24/7 job. You have to leave at 2 a.m., you have to leave at 4 a.m. And this broken rhythm is psychologically exhausting. It is very important that someone comes up, supports and pats you on the shoulder. And what's most impressive is the support of people you know for only three weeks. A sense of a shoulder (to lean on) and a team is what helps in war.
For example, a plane is flying. You are stressed, trying to hide somewhere. And here they broadcast on a walkie-talkie – these are ours. One word, four letters – "ours," and your burden immediately decreases. You look at this plane and you empathize so much with these guys. You understand that we are here for them, and they are in the sky for us.
Back in April, I realized that the war would be long. Whether someone likes it or not, it will take a long time. I plan to fulfill my mission as long as possible. In general, I'm a person who likes to dream and plan. But now you think from today to tomorrow, and you don't think about the day after tomorrow at all. Did you do your job and survived? So, good day. What will happen in a while, months or years – only God knows.
Everyone has their own psychological transformation in war, it is enormous, it changes a lot. I came to Kyiv for a few days, walked down the street, met a friend and immediately smiled, start hugging. Instead, the person looks at me in surprise: are you all right? And I told him: everything is fine, I'm just glad to see you. You start to appreciate everything in a completely different way.