The Ministry of Defence recently stated that the beginning of August was the most difficult in the Kupyansk sector. The Russians are trying to recapture the territories of the Kharkiv region that were liberated last autumn. According to the soldiers who spoke to the captured occupiers, their first goal is to capture Kupyansk.

The journalists of Slidstvo.Info talked to Alina Mykhailova, the head of the medical service of “ULF”, about the situation in the Kupyansk direction and the evacuation of wounded Ukrainian defenders. The video has English subtitles.

One of the units holding the frontline in the Kupyansk sector is the Da Vinci Wolves battalion. They are currently holding back the daily Russian assaults.

Alina Mykhailova, the head of the ULF medical service, told Slidstvo.Info that due to the difficult terrain and lack of armoured vehicles, evacuations of the wounded can take hours.

Alina Mykhailova is a junior lieutenant, head of the medical unit of the Da Vinci Wolves battalion of the 67th separate mechanised brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. She is also a member of the Kyiv City Council. Mykhailova first went to war at the age of 19, in 2014. First as a volunteer, and since 2016 as a paramedic with the Hospitallers. In a year, she created a medical service in accordance with NATO standards in the The Right Sector Ukrainian Volunteer Corps (now the Da Vinci Wolves battalion).

Alina Mykhailova

The Ministry of Defence calls the Kupyansk sector the most difficult. What is the situation with the wounded now?

We are having very active days. For example, yesterday we had to get up at about 4am because we received a call for wounded soldiers. I have a crew that is on duty right next to the positions and I leave when we have a large flow, that is, when more than five wounded are brought in one car. I go with the crews to coordinate where to take each wounded person and to see what we have with the available crews in case there is another blockage. For example, recently we had 30 wounded in one day.

You evacuate the wounded in armoured vehicles, but how dangerous is it to drive as close as you do now?

It is dangerous. We recently had one of our armoured vehicles that was on its way to pick up the wounded burned by a direct hit, and we had to take another one from the reserve. At that moment, no one was hurt because the crew had just gotten out of the vehicle to go after the wounded. There was a direct mine hit and the armour burned on the spot. In general, there are great difficulties with logistics because the fighting is very active now. We even had a day when the evacuation of the wounded lasted 8 hours. There was no way to evacuate them, so there was no way for vehicles to get there to take them out. The wounded could not move on their own to move to the point where the armour was waiting for them.

You have very different injuries here, because the Russians use artillery and there are close combat situations. How much harder is it to cope with this?

Yes, we have a wide variety of wounds here: there are bullet wounds, which are different and require different treatment; there are shrapnel wounds. We also have people killed by artillery, whom we sometimes cannot put together because they are just completely torn apart. And this is all in one section of the frontline, in one position. This is the reality we are fighting in today.

What to do in these cases when evacuation takes hours? Is there a chance to save the soldiers?

We now have to deal with “telemedicine”. When I realise that evacuation is not possible within a few hours, I start contacting the soldiers who are with the wounded and ask: “What is the condition? What indicators can you give? Is he conscious? Please put him in a recovery position, on his side. Does he have any teeth or vomit in his mouth? We take a bandage or a T-shirt and remove it to ensure airway patency.

And because of such long evacuations, the number of amputees is increasing. This is something we cannot deal with today. In addition, the temperature of +40 also has a strong impact on the condition of the soldiers.

Why do evacuations end up taking several hours?

The problem is actually with logistics and the number of armoured vehicles we have. There are very few of them and they are constantly being destroyed, they break down, they need to be repaired, and there are no spare parts. For example, we have an M113 (American tracked armoured personnel carrier – ed.) provided by our Western partners. I have two of them — one is still running, thankfully, and the other has been at the factory for 4 months without spare parts. And that’s why there is a shortage of armoured vehicles. And this is very important now, because it is suicide to go to our positions in an ordinary car.

How different is the situation in the Kupyansk sector now from what it was near Bakhmut?

It differs in that it is difficult to evacuate and there is a large influx of wounded, because it turns out that we have a lot of them and can only take them out in one go. For example, it happened that about 15 wounded were brought in during one armoured vehicle’s trip. This is too much for my crews, because I have only six of them. And you have to understand that there may be an infusion of blood components and intubation at once, etc.

This was not the case in the Bakhmut direction. There was another problem there — winter. Because of this, we had a lot of frostbite. But there, everything is somehow arranged, while here we sometimes do not know how long the wounded will have to stay at the position — 2 hours, 4 or 8. And this complicates the schedule of my crews, the medics get tired because they always think they are about to leave.

How effective is the M113 armoured vehicle for evacuating the wounded compared to other vehicles?

In my opinion, this is the perfect armoured vehicle for medical evacuation. There are combat and medical versions. We have two medical ones. I am completely satisfied because, firstly, it is a guslya (tracked vehicle — ed.). We also have an armoured Hummer, but it is on wheels and in the conditions in the Bakhmut area, for example, it was constantly “unbuckled”, meaning the wheels hit debris and broke through. And the M113 is a compact vehicle. It’s great, it has enough space for both lying and sitting wounded. We even had an incident in Chasiv Yar (Donetsk oblast — ed.) when a mine hit right under the armour. If we had been travelling in the same Hummer, the entire crew would probably have been killed, but we were all safe.

Why is there such a contrast between the lives of the military and civilians? You write a lot about this on Twitter.

Because we have a very strange information policy of total victory. This is good, of course, because, apparently, no one wants to disappoint anyone with reality, and it is completely different today.

This is how we relax civilians, because when you say: “Okay, but when do you go to the army? When will you replace those who have died here, who will replace more than 40 soldiers? They will come back, of course, in three months or six months, but who will be replacing them all this time?

I was also very angry about this story with Hanna Malyar’s (Deputy Minister of Defence of Ukraine — ed.) report that everything is great in our frontline medicine, that the “golden hour” is being observed (if full medical care is provided within the first hour after an injury, it will save the lives of 90% of injured soldiers — ed.) Now remember the evacuation that lasted 8 hours. Perhaps it was 8 “golden hours” then? Can we be proud of that? No, we can’t, but we can’t influence it in any way now. We can try to reduce it to 2-3 hours at the most, but we cannot provide one hour now.

The screenshot of Hanna Malyar’s post in Telegram to the National Doctor’s day where she states that “almost 80% of wounded get medical treatment during the “golden hour”.

We cannot provide assistance during this “golden hour” not because we do not want to. It is because the conditions do not allow us to do so. The positions, the landscape – all of this increases the amount of time it takes to evacuate. Plus, the fact that the Russians are using absolutely all types of weapons: lancets (a Russian barrage munition with an airspeed of up to 300 km/h – ed.), kamikaze drones, and chemical weapons. This is the first time in this area that we have encountered soldiers with chemical poisoning.

The soldiers immediately complain of stinging eyes and difficulty breathing. And, for example, a day after the evacuation, they complain of a minty taste in their mouths, shortness of breath, and that their eyes still sting.

Our frontline medicine is not doing well. It is kept alive “in spite of”, not “because of”. And this is also our reality, which we are trying to fight. But, besides this, we still have our main enemy, the Russians, and we have our own work to do. And so, when we, as military men, hear these victory stories, we think: “Well, I’m either on some other front, or no one here cares about me.” But these stories relax people. They think that we will go swimming in the Crimea next summer. That’s fine, but you have to do something about it too!

What should be the state’s information policy on the topic of war?

In this information policy, perhaps, it is necessary to keep some kind of middle ground, so as not to slip into “everything is lost, everything is bad, we are losing”, but also not to play with this victory, because we are still far from it.

We are still so far away that it is probably hard to describe. I mean, I don’t see it in the short term.