ARTEMIVSK, UKRAINE —
Dozens of injured Ukrainian troops arrive daily at the Central Hospital in the Donetsk region city of Artemivsk, 40 kilometers from the government-controlled town of Debaltseve, which has been under siege from pro-Russian rebels for the past week. The scene there is sometimes chaotic, always stressful and too often somber.
For a while, the ambulances were arriving every few minutes early Sunday, carrying troops wounded in the nearby combat zone. Their comrades moved quickly to help them, and civilian medical personnel hurried to keep up.
As in any war, ambulance crews do some of the most dangerous work.
“I came from two places. I will not name them. From one point I brought a dead body, and from the other two wounded. Action from the Russian side has intensified. That is why these are hard days,” said Private Vasyl from the Ukrainian National Guard.
Vasyl’s colleague, Private Lilya, said that medical evacuation teams face a constant shortage of properly equipped vehicles.
“Our essential, essential need is medical and intensive care transport. That is what we do not have. Transport does not last long here. Our vehicles are constantly under shelling, and this is a big problem for us,” said Lilya.
Inside, many of the medical workers do not want their faces shown for fear of reprisals if the rebels take the town.
The wounded will not talk on camera, but their faces tell their stories. This man has arm and leg injuries from shrapnel that hit him in a village near Debaltseve.
Nearby, a trauma doctor who gave his name only as Nikolai checks more injured troops. He said that the hospital was running out of space, and he that had to call in an extra doctor to help before mid-day, as more wounded came in.
“I just left the operating room. We did an amputation of a lower leg. We cut the soldier’s leg off. They drove onto an anti-personnel mine when they were evacuating the wounded,” said Nikolai.
The doctor said injuries from explosions are the most frequent, and the worst, penetrating deeply and tearing at body parts. And he reports at least 40 cases a day during the past week, more than official government figures for the entire battlefront.
The staff keeps careful handwritten records that become part of cold, hard statistics by the time they get to news briefings.
The hospital is filled with young men with terrible, possibly life-changing injuries. And there are also those whose lives end here, a family tragedy and another statistic - 13 killed one day, 15 another, more than 5,000 soldiers and civilians in all since separatist rebels, backed by Moscow, as Kyiv and the West contend, began their revolt in April.