Those Who Save Lives
Photo: FB-page of "Medical Corps"
Medical care is one of the most pressing problems on the contact line both for military and for civilians. Volunteer doctors from an NGO called "Medical Corps" provide help not only to soldiers but also support citizens living in the remote villages on the front lines.
We talked to the founder of the "Medical Corps" Serhii Slipets to learn more about the organization.
On the photo from left to right: Dr. Maksym Tsyhanok, Surgeon, Pirohov First Volunteer Mobile Hospital, and Serhii Slipets, founder of the "Medical Corps". Photo from Serhii's FB page
How it all began
I graduated from the Kyiv Medical School №1, Faculty of Medicine; I worked in the medical field only for 4 months at the ambulance station in Kyiv. In that time of 1999, it was not a promising career; salaries were very small, and I, although entered the Medical University, left the field of study. This is a black spot in my career.
I preferred woodworking to medicine, it was my business until the war started. I was not on the Maidan. Somehow, I could not make all the puzzle-pieces in my head fit together, did not understand what kind of changes this represented. When the war started, I picked up and went there. I came not as medic, I was eager to help with anything. I was ready to dig trenches, to repair machines. At that time the situation with medicine was all just bad. I joined the medical corps of the 5th Battalion of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps of Right Sector. They then became a medical battalion, and now they’re the Hospitallers. That was my beginning.
Everything was just starting up the and "Patriot Defence" and other organizations were just starting their work and hadn’t time to teach everyone. I didn't participate in any training, just went and worked from memory, intuitively.
Later, I withdraw from the Right Sector because of certain circumstances that parted our ways. And a month later, I created the "Medical Corps".
The "Medical Corps" was joined by volunteer doctors who used their vacation time for 2-3 weeks per year, or who could come more often. At the very start, we worked with the 57th brigade while they were in the area of Horlivka, in the direction of Zaytseve. They had doctors, but there was no equipment, no machines, and we worked together - their doctors, our equipment, our skills. And this cooperation has been very successful.
Assistants and doctors were constantly changing. Different people joined "Medical Corps", something bothered them, something was missing, someone was looking for anything different. Many eventually signed a contract with the Armed Forces, National Guard and continued on.
I’m not even sure how many people passed through the "Medical Corps". More than a hundred. These were not only doctors but also drivers and paramedics. Everyone who came and wanted to help.
All of them made quite a rather big contribution. The most legendary girl is Ivanka Chobanyuk, who also worked with Right Sector. She was a student of Ternopil Medical University, she left her study to help soldiers in the ATO zone, then she was on rotation in "Medical Corps". Now she takes her internship in Zaporizhzhya, teachers gave her a break and made it possible for her to finish university. And in the nearest future, Ivanka will become a doctor with combat experience.
My biggest fear was to lose someone from the team. We had only one wounded girl, Pechenka. This happened in January this year not far from Mayorsk, when overloading the injured soldier in the car a mine exploded. But the injury was not critical and everything turned out well. I worried about the safety of my team.
The most difficult time was in 2014 when massive collisions happened. In one day it could be 30 wounded per 1 team of 4 medics. Most of them were taken at night. Daytime was more or less quiet, and at night under fire, a lot were wounded. Honestly, memory wipes away a lot even though it was a very eventful period.
"Medical Corps" volunteer doctors
Mobile operating point
We developed an operating point based on the Neoplan bus since March 2015. Kyiv businessman had bought it in Germany and delivered to us. We use it for stabilizing, primary and secondary treatment followed by evacuation of wounded to the hospital. Its first mission was in the Donetsk area, in the town of Pisky. The nearest hospital is 45 kilometers, and this is a very large distance for critically injured, so it was necessary to provide skilled prehospital assistance on the scene. The Neoplan stood about 10-15 km from the contact line, we drove by jeeps or pickups with the wounded from the battlefield to the stabilization point, and after that we conducted evacuation by resuscitation unit or by another ambulance transport depending upon a medic’s decision. When massive collisions we sorted wounded by those who need transportation immediately and those who can wait.
Later we had an agreement with the Mykola Pirohov First Volunteer Mobile Hospital, which provided us with doctors.
During the entire time of our mobile operating point work we had one fatality. This happened recently, military doctors decided to evacuate a civilian from Avdiivka, because he was critically injured. He had a gunshot wound to the head. We needed to carry him to Kramatorsk, and although we brought him there alive, he died in the hospital.
Mobile operating point. Photo from the "Medical Corps" FB page
When we created the "Medical Corps" one of the aspects that we considered was to help civilians in the exclusion zone. These are settlements that are not accepted as part of Ukraine nor are they part of the self-proclaimed republics. They have no opportunity to call an ambulance, they do not receive even basic medical care. We started to provide it. We organized reception days in the villages. Residents had contact coordinators and called us for an ambulance. At first, it was difficult because they were a little mean to us, read what we injected, checked the expiry date of drugs, in other words, there was little trust. But in less than a month these people changed their attitude towards us.
We covered the nearest towns, we decided which days to go to which village and people were waiting for us. They came, told their problems, we gave them medication for high blood pressure, painkillers etc.
Subsequently, we also added mobile dentistry. In most cases we provided dental care to the military. Conducted curing of entire battalions.
We started to do it because everyone purchased first aid kits for soldiers, but no one provided treatment for teeth. The only one who engaged in it was Igor Yashchenko with his "Trident Dental", but he works in another area from us.
We built our dental cabinet with the support of the Canadian mission «Heart». They gave us a car and financial assistance. Still, we have been supported by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate, which provided us all the source materials for the first time.
We were able to obtain all the machinery and equipment due to voluntary and charitable support. Many of the machinery we took for temporary use and then returned back, then took again. We never worked alone, we have always worked with someone, we used the machinery of Right Sector, military units, for example, the staff was from "Medical Corps" and the machines from "Khottabych" (a person who provides evacuation services). We did not care with whom to work, we tried to provide the best and the soonest help to rescue the wounded.
Depending on the needs we collected funds from friends, associates, and bought the necessary equipment. The same we did with drugs.
Mobile dentistry. Photo from the "Medical Corps" FB page
Тactical Medicine in Ukraine
Compared to 2014, the situation now is much better. There are many volunteer organizations that provide training in landfills, on the front, on the base of a unit’s permanent deployment. They pushed the situation forward. Now Military forces sign contracts with doctors who have combat experience in 2014, 2015.
At the very beginning, the situation was very sad, no one knew how to provide medical care. Volunteers brought a lot of modern tools, but no one taught how to use them. For example, bandages: well, how could a soldier from a distant village know what this bandage is and how to use it? He just put it in his pocket and that's all. The same situation with Celox that was bought in unlimited quantities in 2014. Soldiers used it everywhere not realizing that it is dangerous. There was a case when to a soldier with an open head injury they just poured Celox to the open area of his brain... Today everything is already clear. I’d like for us to get to the next level, but everything comes with time.
I think it all depends on the people themselves. The changes should start from each one of us. Only when each of us changes, can we then ask the Ministry of Health or Defense why things are wrongly done. Any reform is very poorly perceived by the population of our country, even by military men. They believe that the Ministries are full of bandits and thieves. Not in any other way. In fact, people became accustomed to live as they lived, and it suits them.
Plans for the future
Life goes on, new leaders appear, I have someone to refer the "Medical Corps". Today we actively launched a new project with our chief medical officer Dr. Rostyslav Zauralskyi, we equipped our machines with refrigerators for frozen plasma bank and defroster. And I think that Rostyslav is the next leader.
My hope for people that come after me, is that they have no work to do. That they would not hide from boredom. This is what we wish each other when we go on rotation.
This article was changed on 20.10.2016 to correct titles and positions.