Pieces of People and Bodies Cut Into Slices: The Story of a Paramedic Working Under Shelling in Kharkiv


Kharkiv has been under daily shelling since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. For more than six months Russians have been continuously killing civilians, destroying houses, universities, markets, zoos, and destroying the city’s infrastructure. But the city and its inhabitants continue living their lives. 

A sixth-year medical student works in an ambulance. From the first days of the full-scale Russian invasion, she has been working to rescue people the Russian army is trying to kill by indiscriminately shelling Kharkiv. According to the young woman, in almost seven months of work, she has never been called to a military facility. Every time, civilians were hit: medical facilities, public transport stops or educational institutions.

The 21-year-old paramedic shared her story with us, documenting numerous Russian war crimes she witnessed. She asked to remain anonymous because she does not consider herself special as her story reflects the work of all medical workers, not only in Kharkiv.

The worst thing is finding children

When we responded to a call for the first time, at the very beginning of the war, we went on daily shifts. The first call we got was a hit on a nine-story building. There was a direct hit on the seventh floor, where three brothers lived. One brother was completely torn apart. We pulled him out piece by piece. And he had two little brothers who saw it happen”.

According to the woman, the apartment was completely destroyed. Younger children survived because they were watching cartoons in the bathroom during the air raid. She added that besides fearing for the lives of people, it was difficult because no one knew what to do: there were no bulletproof vests and helmets until they bought them on their own, and they drove to shelled places in a car in which oxygen could explode from even a small fragment. 

Before the full-scale invasion, the paramedic had been working in the ambulance for only eight months. Back then, she was not ready for treating mine-blast injuries, she did not know how to apply tourniquets with the necessary efficiency. But she had to learn quickly. 

The woman explained that the worst thing is to work with children because it is difficult to provide even basic first aid:

There was a case when they rescued a child out of an apartment. She was three years old, she has an open head injury. The parents had been asleep in their room, they were fine, and a single fragment flew into the child’s room. We took that child to the hospital, she stayed there for two hours and died”.

Kharkiv was regularly shelled with cluster munitions

There were days when there were up to five calls due to shelling. The paramedic emphasized that the Russian army regularly shelled Kharkiv with prohibited cluster munitions and Grad rockets:

We were still at a call on Akademika Pavlova Str. They just fired a cluster bomb at a residential building near a school. Two men died and they were just cut into, like, disks. They were laid out in slices on the grass”. 

The woman came under one of such cluster shellings together with her colleagues when she was going to help her team at a shell impact call with multiple deaths:

We came quickly because we are afraid of repeated shelling, and it started just then. I saw a person lying there without a leg, I saw a piece of shrapnel in her neck, arterial bleeding. And I heard the submunitions falling. There were policemen nearby, they told me: “Are you crazy? Hide”. I remember that I wanted to run to that woman who had arterial bleeding and just put pressure on her neck because she would die. But I was brought down by a policeman, then three submunitions fell on us and exploded. I was just saying goodbye to my life at that point”.

Shelling of the Barabashovo market in Kharkiv

According to her, another challenge is being the first to arrive at the impact site: 

There are a lot of people, everyone is screaming, and you have to sort them. It is very scary to be the first to arrive at such cases. You don’t know who to run to. You approach a person, check if they’re dead. Very often after my shift, I worry about whether that person was really dead. You are very worried that may leave a living person to die”.

Now, in addition to calls to impact sites, the paramedic is on duty in no man’s land, where she often comes under fire. After Ukraine launched a counter-offensive, the number of wounded servicemen increased significantly: 

I was on duty on the ring road. Yesterday, we evacuated 60 wounded soldiers. We were under fire for two hours at the checkpoint, sitting in dugouts and waiting. We had a severe patient. He had a shrapnel wound to the face, almost no facial skull, complete amputation of the right upper limb, and many shrapnel wounds.”

Lastly, she noted that people were beginning to forget about the war as they became used to it.

I was so depressed. I still am. I don’t want anything. I love my job and I am very happy when I have a case on my shift when you really give life to a person. Now nothing motivates me, because my parents are under occupation in the Zaporizhia region. I do not want to go outside, because I see how happy people are. They do not see what medical workers see. People do not understand that there is a war in the country. So it still affected my mental health. If I leave work, I will be depressed”, the young woman said.

Diana Zubar

This article was created by Bihus.Info as part of the project “EU Urgent Support for Civil Society” implemented by ISAR Ednannia with the financial support of the European Union. The content of the article is the sole responsibility of Bihus.Info and does not necessarily reflect the position of the European Union.

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