A group of wounded soldiers arrives in the hospital following a massive explosion. It’s not clear whether it was a Smerch rocket or an aircraft bomb, but either way, whatever it was, it was big. The men are in the casualty processing center. They are disoriented and suffering from loss of hearing.
Some are in severe pain and others are shaking uncontrollably. Only one or two are able to stand on their own two feet.
The man who got them there is Oleksandr Saienko. Thirty-five years of age, he is a civilian in uniform and one of Ukraine’s reservists and recently mobilized to bolster the country’s army after Russia’s invasion began.
Saienko serves in Ukraine’s elite 25th Airborne Brigade and drives an ambulance.
When Russian artillery or small arms hits someone on the frontline, Saienko is one of the heroes who pick up the Brigade’s wounded, often including seriously injured soldiers.
His job is to get them quickly to medical care, often in atrocious conditions, and occasionally through the onslaught of Russian shelling. He manages to eat, sleep and rest during those rare times when there are breaks in the fighting,
In NATO armies and in wealthy Western countries, Saeinko’s job is often carried out by Medevac helicopters landing next to the wounded, which fly victims directly to a hospital.
This is expensive but it gives the medics an excellent chance to deliver treatment within the “golden hour” – those critical first 60 minutes following serious injury when a person’s life has the best chance of being saved if they get proper hospital care in time.
In the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF), a lack of money and pilots, combined with the threat posed by Russian air defenses, means there are practically no Medevac helicopters. Men and women like Saienko are the alternatives.
So, when information about a Ukrainian soldier comes in, UAF ambulances must drive to a pick-up point close to the fighting line, rescue the wounded soldiers and get them safely to medical care.
During that golden hour, Saienko, and others like him, have to traverse difficult roads and possible Russian attacks. Day or night, Saienko’s job is to reach the hospital within the first 60 crucial minutes every time he goes out on a call, no matter the circumstances.
In an interview with the Kyiv Post, Saienko tells us that the 25th Brigade’s Casualty Processing Center and the city hospital nearby, are usually between 15-20 minutes (10-30 kilometers) away from the usual roadside transfer point where combat medics hand over injured soldiers to the ambulance crew, depending on where fighting is taking place.
If all goes smoothly, wounded fighters usually reach the hospital well within the golden hour. But there can be delays. Russian artillery could be shelling the pickup point, the access road might be blocked by craters or broken vehicles, or the ambulance crew could get lost.
Exacerbating these problems, an injured soldier might not be prepped for transport or there could be more wounded than the ambulance can handle, which would overload the vehicle.
Sixty minutes is always 60 minutes. When war takes vital time away from a wounded soldier from the 25th Airborne Brigade, it’s up to Saienko to steal back life-saving time for as many as he can.
Oleksandr is a long-time Dnipro resident. He was actually born in Magadan, Russia, but his family moved to Ukraine when he was a child. He was drafted into the Ukrainian military, served from 2005-6, then returned to civilian life. He then worked in Russia for a while, but the years passed by and Dnipro’s economy needed buildings and interiors, so, by the 2020s he had steady work in the growing construction industry.
Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Saienko was a middle-class family man, just like many others.
He was making a fair income for his wife and two children (a son aged 19 and a daughter aged 14) along with an apartment, a car, and a stable life.
The day after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, Saienko was already at the local draft board – a decision not fully supported by Mrs. Saienko – to register as a volunteer. The army told him to go home and wait.
He used that time to help some of his older and female relatives reach the safety of Germany. His service summons came on April 7, and since then he has been in uniform and driving an ambulance for the 25th Airborne Brigade – based in Dnipro – without a break.
The Brigade has been fighting and taking casualties continuously since the first day of the war.
Saienko drives a Renault Traffic ambulance containing typical gurney and storage bins and medical supplies.
The Brigade’s medical facilities are overflowing, the Kyiv Post has observed, with donated expendables like surgical gloves and bandages.
Like most city ambulances, it seems solidly built, somewhat top-heavy, and runs on street tires. The Renault is almost completely unarmored, except for the supply of bulletproof vests which Saienko hopes will protect the ambulance crew from any shell splinters and bullets.
Patients and medical crew members in the back of the ambulance are not protected at all. Saienko acknowledges that a better vehicle for the job would be an armored four-wheel drive vehicle with tires built to handle not just hard roads, but dirt and mud tracks.
Saienko tells the Kyiv Post that after the war – assuming he gets to see the day – he wants to go back into construction, perhaps start his own company, save up enough to build a proper house, and put his children through higher education.
We told you at the top of this article about the men Saienko delivered to the hospital following the rocket or aircraft bomb. The Kyiv Post can confirm that they successfully received the treatment they needed – with vital interventions aboard Saienko’s ambulance – and within the golden hour.
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