Volunteer bus evacuates wounded Ukrainian troops

(Reuters) – On a brightly painted bus that doubles as Ukraine’s high-tech medical evacuation unit, Stasik lies on one of six beds, which are linked to blood pressure and heart monitors and IV fluids for patients who need them.

The 45-year-old soldier, who gave only his first name, lost his right arm when a tank shell hit his position while fighting Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

The arm was amputated and his condition is stable, and now he and nine others wounded in combat are on their way from a small hospital in a town that cannot be named for security reasons to a larger one in downtown Dnipro.

There they receive further treatment and rehabilitation, but the journey would be dangerous for some without a team of medics to monitor their condition and administer painkillers and other medications.

Six paramedics move up and down the narrow corridor between two rows of three beds that run the length of the bus, which is part of Ukraine’s Hospitaller Medical Battalion evacuating troops across Ukraine. Four other wounded sit in the back.

“This is really the beginning of something great,” said Andrii Voloshin, 23, referring to the “Avstriika bus” — named after the military call sign of an Austrian volunteer who had worked on a similar bus before joining one died in traffic accident.

This vehicle was badly damaged in the accident so another was built to replace it.

“We had no way of transporting victims between hospitals in such numbers before in Ukraine,” he told Reuters. “It is important that we relieve hospitals near the front so that they are not overburdened.”

One side of the bus is covered with the huge painting of a woman’s face surrounded by sunflowers and the words “For Every Life” are written on the other.

The initiative involves teams of volunteers who rotate and spend several weeks on call to be ready when soldiers need to move farther from combat.

It is a small part of a vast network of evacuation teams in Ukraine, connecting soldiers in trenches with small teams in rear positions, then to field hospitals, small nearby facilities, and finally, in serious cases, to large centers.

Tens of thousands of soldiers have been killed and wounded on both sides of the conflict since Russia launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine last February.

Stasik, who joked with a gold-toothed grin as the bus bounced over the potholed roads, said his days in the military are over now that he’s lost an arm.

When asked if he would miss his comrades if he tries to return to civilian life, the former sawmill worker becomes more serious.

“On the front line, you understand that you can lose that person in a day or two, and you’re trying not to have that emotional attachment.

“To tell the truth, there’s no point in missing the boys because my comrades are dead. It is good that you are no longer in pain. You will die and go to either paradise or hell. But we live in hell here.”

(This story has been refiled to remove mutilation in the title.)

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Nick Macfie)


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