“We must save our soldiers’ lives – this is the most precious thing we have” interview with Yegor Firsov, May 19.
Ukrainian activist and former MP Yegor Firsov has spoken about his frontline work as a combat paramedic in Donetsk Region, where Russian forces have been concentrating their invasion efforts. He told the Kyiv Post that there is a shortage of frontline paramedics and knowledge of first aid among soldiers. He confirmed that Russian troops recently destroyed a school in Avdiivka with white phosphorus munitions, which are banned by international treaties. There are civilian victims almost every day.
[Klitina] Hello, this is Oleksandra Klitina from the Kyiv Post. Today, we have Yegor Firsov with us, a Ukrainian politician, activist, and MP of the 7th and 8th convocations. He was also a member of the territorial defense in the city of Kyiv, and then went to the front. Tell us Yegor: how did this terrible war change your life? What are you up currently engaged in?
[Firsov] I am currently in Avdiivka, 10 km from Donetsk, on the front line. I work as a combat paramedic, but I am a lawyer by education. On February 24, when the full-scale war began, I enlisted in the territorial defense of the city of Kyiv. Then the enemy retreated, and I found out that there was a shortage of combat paramedics on the front. There were long queues at the military registration and enlistment offices to join the army, despite the catastrophic lack of combat paramedics on the front. I completed first aid courses, passed my exams, and now I’m in Avdiivka.
[Klitina] What is the current situation at the front? I saw on the news that Russian occupiers are trying to advance into Avdiivka. What is happening right now?
[Firsov] Russian occupiers have wanted to capture Avdiivka since 2014. It is a permanent objective for them. And since the enemy has retreated from Kyiv and Kharkiv, Donetsk Region is now the central focus for Russian troops. All the key Russian propagandists have been writing that Avdiivka should be taken in the space of a few days. Imagine how they changed their plans – wanting to seize Kyiv and all of Ukraine to capturing a small town where several thousand people live.
There is no quiet time. There are constant attacks by the enemy. Our troops are continuously repelling and killing Russian servicemen. The enemy has lost thousands of soldiers in the Avdiivka direction alone. Attacks are coming all the time from various directions. Russian troops want to occupy certain positions, but Ukrainian Armed Forces are not surrendering a single piece of land. This epic struggle to capture Avdiivka has been going on for a long time. Ukrainian troops have not given up any position. The enemy is continually getting a good beating, and the Russians won’t be able to take Avdiivka.
[Klitina] What are your predictions as to how hostilities will develop further?
[Firsov] First, I can say that the closer you are to the front line, the simpler the goals – where to get the necessary paramedical supplies, how to get the wounded to a hospital in time. Then, that I am convinced that we will have victory quite soon. However, fighting will continue for some time. Various opinions are spreading: that we are about to win and so on. I would say that we are repelling the enemy, but there is a lot to do for us to attain victory.
[Klitina] How reliable is the Ukrainian army’s equipment, is the necessary paramedical care being provided, and what are the needs?
[Firsov] I pay tribute to the work of all ministers and officials, who, perhaps for the first time in the history of Ukraine’s independence, are working so hard. However, certain things are in short supply especially in the medical component. The front lacks first-aid doctors – combat paramedics who have 10 minutes to apply a tourniquet, transfer the wounded, attach a drip and transfer the injured soldier or civilian to a hospital.
The situation with equipment is improving, but some problems remain with the lack of knowledge that fighters have, who, when injured on the battlefield, have to provide first aid to themselves. I see the incredible courage of our soldiers, but there is a need for them to have basic first aid knowledge.
I even met MPs so that they would initiate a draft bill on the need for our soldiers to have minimum weekly first aid courses. I understand that, first and foremost, we need weapons, the paramedical component will not enable us to win the war. Anyway, we must save our soldiers’ lives – this is the most precious thing we have.
[Klitina] How many people have you saved? Do you remember the first patient you gave first aid to? You changed your profession, was it difficult and perhaps shocking at first?
[Firsov] Yes, what I studied in theory is quite different in practice. I do not save, but help to save lives. Saving a life is a whole chain of actions from the moment the fighter was wounded to the moment he was taken to hospital and operated on – my role is only a tiny part of the help that is necessary. A lot of people are involved in this process – some are transporting soldiers from the battlefield, some are taking the wounded in an ambulance, and doctors are operating on them. I’m just trying to do my job and be as helpful as possible.
The most challenging thing is not even when you give first aid, but when you take a wounded soldier to a hospital, hold his hand and say whatever you can think of to distract the wounded from different kinds of thoughts and pain. There is just one thought in my head at that time – to get them to a hospital alive.
[Klitina] Tell me, how many people get injured, tens or hundreds of people? How many people do you help?
[Firsov] I can’t say the exact number of wounded because I don’t see the whole picture, but there are wounded almost every day. Sometimes, it’s one person, sometimes it’s five. Of course, when there are five wounded, it is more challenging to provide help.
[Klitina] Was it possible to evacuate civilians, are there any people left, and what is the humanitarian situation in the city right now?
[Firsov] There are 3,000-4,000 people left. The total population of Avdiivka before the Russian invasion was 36,000. The military administration is making every effort to evacuate residents. However, for some reason, many people are refusing to leave the city. There are many reasons – nowhere to go, no money, maybe someone is waiting for “Russkiy mir” [Russian world],” – there are some Russian supporters too. Some people think that the war will somehow end.
I even meet people and ask them to evacuate because it is too dangerous to stay in Avdiivka. The day before yesterday, a 25-year-old woman was killed, leaving a three-year-old child. There are victims almost every day.
There is nearly nothing left of the city. For example, the school where I once worked as a teacher was completely destroyed. It was burned down by phosphorous bombs, which are banned by all international conventions. The building simply burned down. It was impossible to even extinguish it.
[Klitina] Do I understand you correctly, that there are victims every day, and people still do not leave but remain in their homes?
[Firsov] Yes, they know about the losses because there are many victims among the civilian population.
[Klitina] Thank you for your courage and for the interview! Goodbye and stay safe!