It was late February 2022 and our home was in complete chaos. Boxes everywhere. We were about to leave Australia and move to Sofia, Bulgaria. I was managing my stress the usual way – running with my AirPods on. For days, on my runs, I had been hearing about Russian troops gathering along the Ukrainian border. Friends were questioning our choice to move to Europe as war clouds were gathering.
War clouds were not new to me. I grew up in Sarajevo, Bosnia. When I was 14 years old, I spent a year in Sarajevo while the city was under siege. Without power, without water, without any form of communication, under sniper fire and with hundreds of mortars hitting the city every day. I lost many friends – 18-year-old boys who went to the frontline in jeans and running shoes, trying to defend the city.
Then the impossible happened. Tanks were again rolling across European soil. Images of thousands of women and children flooding across the borders, families being separated, apartment buildings, theatres and hospitals being reduced to rubble.
During the war in Bosnia, I was a teenager, a civilian under fire struggling to survive. I was helpless. Now I was a doctor, with skills that could be used to make a difference.
In the chaos of war, it can be difficult to know how best to help. When I found Medics4Ukraine, I knew that I had found a way to use my skills in a way that can make a real difference. They were training Ukrainians in the basics of combat medicine, teaching them frontline first aid that can save the lives of up to 30% of people who are wounded. Most of the Ukrainian army is made up of civilians- they never had a chance to learn the skills that, at the frontline, make a difference between life and death.
In late March this year I boarded a train to Kherson with the Medics4Ukraine team. It was quiet on the train as we passed through devastated villages watching trenches and tank dugouts beside the rail line. As we entered the sand-bagged Kherson train station we were handed helmets and flak jackets. In the background, there was a sound of artillery fire.
While in Kherson, our team trained 160 Ukrainian firefighters, border guards, soldiers and doctors. None of them were professional soldiers. Before the war, they were students, cooks, accountants, paediatricians… All of them had a friend or a family member die in the war, many had seen it happen.
The feelings that they shared were so familiar to me. They wanted us to remember them, to remember that they were fighting for the values we share. Their minds were laser-focused on what we were teaching them. For them, this was not just a skill – it was something that might save a friend’s life.
This week I am watching footage from Kherson. Familiar streetscape, under shelling – again. I am also restlessly messaging, emailing and calling pharmaceutical companies – we are trying to urgently source TXA, a life-saving medication that stops major haemorrhages. Funds are coming in, AAS community has been an important part of the fundraising effort. Logistics is being organised. Time is of the essence.
Work is not done yet. It will not be done until the guns go quiet and until there is just peace. Until then, I will go to Ukraine again, I will ask you for help again, and I will ask you not to forget. I still remember how every little bit of help gave the citizens of Sarajevo enough hope to fight another day. I want us to be that hope for the people of Ukraine.
You can donate to Medics4Ukraine here.