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The road from death to life: Medics evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers amid intensified fighting (Photo)

by Serhii Korovayny May 11, 2024 12:17 PM 5 min read
Members of the Hospitallers volunteer medical battalion transport a wounded Ukrainian soldier from the evacuation bus to a hospital in Dnipro city on April 25, 2024. Hospitallers use the sunflower-pained bus to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers from the front line as fighting has intensified in the east. (Serhii Korovayny/The Kyiv Independent)
by Serhii Korovayny May 11, 2024 12:17 PM 5 min read
This audio is created with AI assistance

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Editor’s Note: Soldiers and military medics are introduced by first names and callsigns only due to security reasons.

DONETSK OBLAST – A sunflowers-painted bus drives fast toward Dnipro, clearing the way with sirens. From the front line to the rear, from death to life, it carries wounded Ukrainian soldiers, and its mission is to get them to hospitals alive.

The Hospitallers volunteer medical battalion operates the bus. Its name is "Avstriika" (“Austrian” in Ukrainian) in memory of a fallen military medic. Natalya Frauscher, nicknamed "Austrian," was a member of the battalion. She died in a car accident at the end of June 2022.

Members of the Hospitallers Medical Battalion carry a wounded soldier into the bus to evacuate him from the front line in Donetsk Oblast to a hospital in Dnipro city on April 25, 2024. (Serhii Korovayny/The Kyiv Independent)
One of the volunteers with the Hospitallers Medical Battalion writes down the medical data of the wounded soldier inside the evacuation bus that brings wounded Ukrainian soldiers from Donetsk Oblast to a hospital in Dnipro city on April 25, 2024. (Serhii Korovayny/The Kyiv Independent)

On April 25, the bus left the base at 5 a.m. The team of four volunteer medics and a driver made all the preparations to collect wounded soldiers from the stabilization points in Donetsk Oblast and safely transport them to the hospital in Dnipro, a city located about 250 kilometers (155 miles) from the front line. They picked up 33 wounded Ukrainians, most of whom were from the Avdiivka area, one of the hottest segments of the front line at the moment.

On their way, hospitallers treated soldiers with necessary medications, provided water and snacks, and completed their paperwork. "That's the difference between us (Ukraine and Russia),” Oleksiy, callsign “Feb,” Avstriika’s team commander, said.

“We treat every life with dignity. Every person matters to us."

In two years, this bus has evacuated more than 4,000 wounded service members. It doesn't have a schedule and operates on a demand basis. In busy times, like the Ukrainian summer counteroffensive or battles of Bakhmut or Avdiivka, the bus makes two or three daily trips, each taking up to eight hours.

Oleksiy, callsign Feb, the commander of Avstriika evacuation bus team of the Hospitallers medical battalion, poses for a portrait at the battalion's base in Dnipro region after a 9-hour trip. (Serhii Korovayny/The Kyiv Independent)

It is quiet inside the bus. The wounded soldiers are sleeping, chatting via messengers, or simply resting with their eyes half-closed. For many, it is the first opportunity to take a well-deserved break. They came straight from hell, fighting for days or weeks without rest.

Bohdan, a machine gun operator from Zaporizhzhia, said that his group was surrounded by Russians near the village of Novobakhmutivka. They had to run 700 meters on the open ground to escape. Three out of nine of their group members died. "I can't comprehend the loss fully now,” Bohdan said. “Later, the grief will catch on to me."

Novobakhmutivka was recently occupied as part of Russia’s major push west and northwest of Avdiivka, a city that had been captured earlier in February.

Ukrainian serviceman Bohdan gets out of the Hospitallers evacuation bus near a hospital in Dnipro city on April 25, 2024. (Serhii Korovayny/The Kyiv Independent)

Two other servicemen with callsigns “Lito” ("Summer") and Kipish ("Chaos") were holding positions against Russian soldiers in Berdychi village. They saw Russian infantry just 15-20 meters from their base. Russian artillery hit the group and wounded four people, two of them severely. Their position was soon occupied.

On April 28, Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine's Armed Forces Oleksandr Syrskyi confirmed that Ukrainian troops had retreated west from the villages of Berdychi, Semenivka, and Novomykhailivka in Donetsk Oblast.

Lito said that Ukrainian troops are significantly outnumbered and that additional reinforcement is needed.

One of the wounded Ukrainian soldiers get treatment at the Hospitallers evacuation bus as they are being transported from Donetsk Oblast to a hospital in Dnipro city on April 25, 2024. (Serhii Korovayny/The Kyiv Independent)
The view on the road from Donetsk Oblast to Dnipro on April 25, 2024. (Serhii Korovayny/The Kyiv Independent)

Medics cruise between bed bunks on the bus, checking medications and talking with the wounded.

As they arrive in Dnipro, hospital staff awaits for patients. Those soldiers who can walk take a quick smoke and follow nurses inside the building. The heavily wounded are being carried inside by the medics.

On their way back to the base, Hospitallers are resting or sleeping. Their work is done – until the next group of wounded soldiers needs them.

Wounded Ukrainian servicemen rest inside the Hospitallers evacuation bus driving from the front line in Donetsk Oblast to Dnipro on April 25, 2024. (Serhii Korovayny/The Kyiv Independent)

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