In an interview with Kyiv Post’s Aleksandra Klitina, Iryna, who served near Lysychansk before the Russian army captured the city at the beginning of this month, has described her time serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and also underlined the vital role of Ukrainian volunteers in the current war.
[Klitina] Good afternoon, Iryna. You are such a beautiful woman. What motivated you to go to the army?
[Iryna] I believe everyone should work to bring the most significant benefit. Before the war, I was involved in volunteer activities and provided first aid as part of a volunteer organization. I thought that I would go to serve in the territorial defense forces, and become a medic to provide first aid at the front. So that happened.
[Klitina] And how did your family receive this decision?
[Iryna] I teach territorial defense military how to use tourniquets and first aid kits. The fighters of one of the units were so happy to feel safer at the front after I had received my training, so I said – take me with your unit to the front, and you will be even safer.
I wrote to my husband that I was taken to the territorial defense to serve, and he replied that he approves. My husband understands this decision. I wouldn’t say he is glad that I am on duty and risking my life, but he is very supportive.
[Klitina] Is he waiting for you to come back from the front?
[Klitina] You were on the front line in Lysychansk, where Russian artillery shelled on a very large scale. It must be terrifying. How did you react the first time?
[Iryna] I was psychologically prepared for the fact that there would be shelling, danger, the risk of being injured, or even death. Yes, when we arrived at the front line, it was scary. I did not expect us to serve on the front line and that there would be so much shelling.
[Klitina] Did the Russian army fire very hard?
[Iryna] Russia wanted to capture that area. It was strategically necessary for the Russians to report that they had captured Luhansk Region.
The Russian troops did not spare a thing. All the types of weapons that the Russian army had were used – there was constant shelling and no silence.
[Klitina] Did you see phosphorus bombs?
[Iryna] Yes, phosphorous, cluster bombs, tanks, artillery, mortars – the Russians fired all the weapons they had at us.
[Klitina] Are there many wounded on the Ukrainian side?
[Iryna] Yes, there are so many wounded. Some days I was called to leave at half past six in the morning, and I only returned at half past two in the morning the next day. I spent the whole day ferrying people by medical car and carrying out medical evacuations.
[Klitina] I see that you received an injury to your hand. How did that happen?
[Iryna] Actually, I was wounded twice. The first wound was at the point of transfer of the wounded, our medical crew was waiting for the injured to be brought from their positions, and a Russian cruise missile hit the place where we were staying – there were both dead and seriously wounded. I was fortunate, received minor injuries to my arm and leg.
We pulled out the seriously injured, very quickly dragged them into the car, which was still intact, and left promptly until the Russians hit again.
I went to the hospital, and doctors told me that the missile fragments were inside my hand and leg, but there was no time to remove them. I wrote a statement on refusal to be hospitalized and returned because there were very few medical crews and lots of work. There was no time to waste.
[Klitina] Are you also planning to return to the front again?
[Iryna] Yes. Then I had a second injury. We were also on a medical evacuation, evacuating two injured soldiers, and the car ran into some wreckage and overturned several times. Everyone is alive and almost intact. I have a fractured arm and must leave the front this time to recover. Now I am receiving maximum treatment and planning to go back to the front again.
[Klitina] Are there many women serving in the army. Are they mainly medics?
[Iryna] According to my estimates, women make up around 2-3%, maybe a little more – from what I saw, and are primarily medics. The command often says that women should serve as medics.
[Klitina] So is there a certain attitude towards women?
[Iryna] Unfortunately, yes. A particular attitude towards women remains, and I faced it a lot – oh, you’re a girl, you have to give birth to children and stay at home in the kitchen. However, in my military unit, there are no problems with the fact that I am a woman and weaker or something like that.
[Klitina] The Ministry of Defense announced news today about a new uniform for women. What do you think about this?
[Iryna] I am interested in checking it out myself. The biggest problem is with the sizes. The smallest military clothing available is two or three sizes larger than mine. Small women serving in the army was probably not expected. I am waiting for a new uniform.
[Klitina] A dress would probably not be convenient in this case. Another question is, are there enough medicines and equipment? What are the needs on the front?
[Iryna] The needs at the front are, first of all, tourniquets, bandages, and hemostatic agents. The situation is such that a lot of aid goes through volunteers in the main.
I spend my funds received from the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Much of my salary was spent on medicines to provide my unit with tourniquets and bandages. If a soldier gets hit somewhere, the wound needs to be treated with something.
The battalion also provides help, but this is a tiny percentage of what is required.
[Klitina] Is help from volunteers needed?
[Iryna] I don’t know how military personnel would survive without volunteers.
[Klitina] You are a medic, a donor, and a volunteer… Are you collecting funds for any cause at the present time?
[Iryna] My medical evacuation vehicle broke down completely when I was injured. Now, while I am still recovering, am collecting money for a new car. When my arm heals, I plan to set up the vehicle and start working again.
[Klitina] Were there any funny incidents during the service, I wonder?
[Iryna] I don’t know if it is a funny case. When our car overturned, we carried two soldiers with concussion to get a drip because they had hurt their heads. They are completely stuck. They get out of the overturned car, and say – we went to get treated for concussion and received more injuries.
[Klitina] What is the morale of the Ukrainian army like? I read that the ratio of forces of Ukrainian and Russian troops was one to ten. How does our military perceive all this?
[Iryna] Everything is correct. They are vastly outnumbered by Russian forces, the situation was difficult, and the problem was complicated. I don’t know what keeps our armed forces and our soldiers going.
I admire them so much. They work, defend, stand, and do not give up, even though they have already been on the front line for four months.
The soldiers do not have days off or vacations or anything like that, but they work and they do it well. Yes, they are tired, but they don’t complain. I don’t know how they do it and where they get so much strength. With having such warriors, the Ukrainian army cannot be defeated.
[Klitina] They inspire you, and you inspire me. With such women, we are invincible. Thank you very much for this interview.