Military medics of Ukraine
Olena Kryvtsova
Resident of the hospital department

On the eve of the large-scale invasion, Olena went to Volnovakha for a rotation. For many years in a row, a reinforcement group worked there in the central district hospital: a therapist, a surgeon, an anesthesiologist, and a nurse. They had one small room with minimal technical support, where they received the military. During her service in Mariupol, this was her seventh rotation to Volnovakha.

I didn’t sleep well during the night from February 23 to 24. Olena read the news until she came across the address of the President of the Russian Federation. Around 4 am, I heard an explosion, and within two hours, the first wounded arrived. The Russians fired at the checkpoints.

– We were not mentally prepared for these terrible pictures. It’s one thing when one or two people are brought in with a bullet or shrapnel wound, and it’s another thing when car after car drives up to the hospital and you realize that it’s not the end of it all. And these pools of blood… These are some kind of movie scenes. How can there be calf-deep blood in the room? And then you see them with your own eyes.

We had no idea how critical everything was, it was increasing the tension. But you couldn’t afford to get lost in this misunderstanding. I remember that we started to take off the military socks from the boys. Because we did not know how close the enemy was. And if the Russians suddenly come in now and see the wounded, then they better think that they are just civilians. The whole day of February 24 was spent on my feet. The next night they also delivered the wounded boys. Doctors from the Volnovaha hospital helped us all the time, there was no separation: these are your patients, these are all ours.

And then we were given command to return to the hospital in Mariupol. There basement there was cleared some time before hostilities. That’s all the protection. At first, only military personnel were brought to us, then, when the Russians came closer, a lot of civilians appeared. There were many injuries and therapeutic patients as well. The war doesn’t stop the blood sugar levels that require insulin injections. And when the medicines disappeared from the pharmacies, we gave people what we had from our stocks.

I will not say that I felt fear then. There was something else. It’s like you’re having a terrible dream. You feel restlessness, anxiety, you want to wake up, but you can’t. Communication with colleagues rescued. When it started rumbling outside the window, and it was already March, we joked among ourselves: “Oh, spring thunderstorms.” Black humor turns on, you try to relieve yourself and those around you. And then, at your own risk and fear, you climb to the 4th or 5th floor, look out the window and see how the city is burning, how the district where you rented an apartment is burning. But it doesn’t matter what’s left there.


And then the next thought: it’s not just fire and smoke, there are people. And it didn’t fit in his head.

— At the beginning, the hospital received about three dozen wounded people a day. Later, this figure already reached more than a hundred. A lot of faces come to mind. But the most interesting thing is that they are all remembered not bent over from pain, but with smiles. You try to help the guy, even just ask about his condition, and he will definitely smile, take his hand and say: “Let’s get through.” And you understand where you leave them, you are in your place.

Our surgeons, nurses, junior nurses did not sit around the clock. The surgeons had the size of bags under the eyes till the chin. You hug them, you say: “We will manage.” But you understand how difficult it is for them. This is not work on a conveyor belt with equipment, they have human lives in their hands. It was scary for their health, physical and moral. For them to endure, because resources are not infinite, no matter how strong a person is. Especially if there is no food, sleep and reinforcement. You come up, push him, ask if he has eaten. He stands in gloves up to his elbows in blood, and you understand that the question is stupid. And on the walkie-talkie they say that they are taking the wounded again.

Some doctors from civilian hospitals came to the hospital to help. We also had civilians. People thought that war was war, and medical institutions and churches were security.

Our windows and doors were blown out by the blast waves. We slept for a long time dressed under four blankets, trying to keep warm. But it still felt like you were sleeping outside. Generators are not eternal, there is no hot water to drink at least for a tea. Only rain and snow do not fall on the head, because the roof is still holding.

In mid-March, wounded people began to arrive from the residential area across the street. This meant that the shells were flying very close. And on March 16, one such the projectile flew to the hospital yard, aiming at the monument to the fallen military medics. Then they crashed the nearby “Neptune” pool, a huge glass structure that had been under construction for many years, and it was to be opened. It was a matter of time when he would fly specifically to the hospital.And on the same day, an aerial bomb hit the intensive care unit. Surprisingly, almost no one from the staff was injured. Even the seconded paramedic-instructor-disinfector, who was at the very epicenter of the infection. Now he is in captivity. Then Olena was able to call her mother for the last time. And further communication was very rare – only text messages with the words “alive”.

After that, the hospital began to be moved in small groups along with equipment and medicines to the Ilyich plant and Azovstal. Olena ended up at the Illich factory. “Just get into the car, and wherever it took you, there you are. And you start all over again,” she says.

On April 12, 2022, Olena was captured by the Russians. And spent more than six months there. On October 17, 2022, she returned home as part of the prisoner exchange.