Among the many aspects of Russia’s war against Ukraine, one that receives scant attention is the world of international medical volunteers who leave their homes to come help in a war zone.

In the first week of March, four young Italian doctors from the San Matteo Hospital in Pavia came to Odesa as volunteers. The city has been continually attacked by Russian missiles and drones.

The purpose of their trip was to dedicate a few days to training Ukrainian medical staff in techniques for injuries incurred in combat and following bombings. They taught how to treat severe bleeding and physical trauma, as well first aid for light wounds. Many people die from bleeding, because fellow soldiers, policemen or passers-by simply do not know how to stop the bleeding and passively wait for a doctor or ambulance, which often arrive too late.


The visiting Italian doctors work in the emergency department of Pavia Hospital. Bruno Barcella, Flavia Resta, Giovanni Cappa, Valentina Angeli – all between 31 and 32 – have come to teach in a medical center selected by the UN World Health Organization, sacrificing a week of vacation.

Valentina and Flavia said that their parents were very worried about the risks of a trip to Ukraine, but they nevertheless understood the importance of the mission and did not hinder their decision. Bruno was no stranger to international volunteering experiences. In South Africa he worked in a hospital in Johannesburg, treating the wounded from daily shootings. For Giovanni, the team leader, this is the second time he’s come to Odesa, carrying out the same task. In Pavia he is also President of the International Action Commission of the Rotary 2050 District, which contributed to the payment of travel expenses.

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Italian volunteers teaching first aid.

On March 6, their last day of work, a Russian missile struck near the Greek Prime Minister’s delegation visiting Odesa with President Zelensky. The doctors’ training location was downtown, and they heard the explosion and felt the blast wave.


Yet the young volunteers said that they were more frightened during the previous two nights, when Odesa was hit by swarms of 20 drones at a time.

During their visit they were welcomed by the local chapter of the Rotary Club, following the Rotary tradition of visiting clubs abroad when traveling, and shared their experience with the local Rotarians.

The Italians found the sense of gratitude shown by the Ukrainian medical staff who followed the courses particularly moving. “That ‘thank you’ I received is something profound, said Flavia. “Whoever says ‘thank you’ is saying, ‘I do know that you left your comfortable home and faced a risky journey to come and help us.’”

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