A car for Shamanka: the story of an AFU medic who was helped by the "Techiia Foundation"
A few months ago, the "Techiia Foundation" financed the purchase of another vehicle for evacuating the wounded. An exciting confession story was published on LIGA.net by a young medic named Svitlana, who received the transportation.
"We were informed by radio that there was a direct hit on the position, two wounded. We headed out by our “loaf' (UAZ- Ed.). We put the guys in the car, and we drove off. The road was rough, and there was shelling, and we were thrown from side to side. The soldiers were lying almost on top of each other because there was not enough space...
Medical vehicles are a huge problem. Yes, the “loaf” can go anywhere, but it's difficult to save a person in it. It breaks down frequently, and in the cold, we could barely start it. We can forget about IV drips and sutures. The maximum we can do is close the wound, dress it, cover it with a thermal blanket, and not let the person fall asleep. A medical armored vehicle is needed there!"
This is a fragment from the story of a medic in the Ukrainian Armed Forces named Svitlana Shpilka (callsign – Shamanka). She is 25 years old, and spent 16 years of her life in the Czech Republic, where she graduated from a medical college. She worked in various hospitals in the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom, including surgical, urological, and infectious disease departments.
After the full-scale invasion started, she decided that her skills were most needed in Ukraine. In the early days of the war, she volunteered for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Since then, she has been on the front lines in Mykolaiv, Kherson, and Bakhmut areas.
A dark-haired, smiling girl in camouflage surrounded by backpacks, clothing, and boxes of medicine – a typical organized chaos of a combat medic on rotation. Periodically, someone enters the room, and Svitlana gives short instructions like "take some food with you," "give me a call when you get there,” and "please bring this here."
The following text is her direct speech about the hell of the battle for Bakhmut, choice, and stubbornness.
THE PATH TO WAR
I missed the beginning of the invasion. I was working late the night before and was exhausted. I slept soundly, and my phone ran out of battery during the night. I only woke up at noon and turned it on to find dozens of missed calls... Later, I met with my cousin. We watched videos from Ukraine. I cried.
On February 25th, I went to an army surplus store. I picked out a black backpack, high army boots, and tactical pants.
I said, "I'm going to war – can you advise me on what to bring?" The salesperson was shocked. Well, he said, take a flashlight, a knife, dried food for the first few days, and some energy bars.
Actually, before that, I wanted to become a paratrooper in the Czech army. It was a very interesting profession that suited my character. I'm always on the move and have had two or three jobs at a time. There are almost no girls in paratroopers, and I wanted to be among the first. And you jump out of an airplane there! I prepared very thoroughly and passed all the physical and psychological tests. I even shaved my head bald. All that was left was to sign the contract and join the basic training course. But...
On the night of February 28th, a guy who was helping transport refugees across the Czech Republic drove me to the Ukrainian border. I still remember this surreal moment: only our car was heading into Ukraine while endless columns were coming towards us. In Uzhhorod, a random man gave me a ride.
At ten in the morning, I was brought to the military enlistment office. I was dressed all in black, wearing heavy boots and only a red hat on my head. As a guy, at least from the appearance, if not for my figure. Some of those who were in line with me at the time and later ended up in the same unit as I said that, at first, they thought I was some kind of drug addict. Only later, as we talked, they realized that I was normal, just stubborn.
I was rejected. They said, "Girl, war is not a joke, go home." But no way. I slept in a hotel across the street, came in the morning, and stood in line all day. The military officers argued with me. I persuaded them. Eventually, they sent me to Mukachevo.
In Mukachevo, the chief of staff also tried to get rid of me. "Go home, girl," he said. Yeah, right. Did I travel 1000 km and spent three days living outside the military enlistment office just to go back home? I convinced them. In the end, the chief said, "And how are you going to wash your head there, huh? There’s no SPA salon there!" I silently took off my red hat. He looked at my shaved head and said, "Holy sh.t! What is this?" And that was it, they accepted me.
And so, I ended up in a mechanized brigade as a medic.
They didn't trust me for a long time, thinking maybe I came to show off or find myself a man. Unfortunately, this attitude towards women still exists.
Initially, our battalion was tasked with defending the Volyn region, expecting an attack from Belarus. My fellow medics and I distributed medication and stocked up our medical kits.
Despite my stubbornness in joining the army, I was very scared. I was most afraid of my own inadequate reactions. As a nurse, I had seen various injuries, but they were in civilian situations – household or due to traffic accidents. How is it going to be here?
We spent a month in Volyn, then went to Mykolaiv, where we stayed for eight months. I thought everything that was happening there was the scariest. Then I realized that there was relatively little work in Mykolaiv.
When the russians were pushed out of Kherson, we moved closer to the city. There, on the coast of the bay, we cleared the area of mines and were holding our defense. In December, we were transferred to Bakhmut.
COMPLETELY DIFFERENT BAKHMUT
In the first month, we were positioned in the center of Bakhmut. Then we were moved to a nearby village. After months in trenches, urban warfare seemed very difficult. Everything was totally different here.
First of all, there were fewer positions near Kherson, and our guys had studied them well over eight months. In Bakhmut, everything was constantly changing: sometimes the russians approached, sometimes we pushed them back, and this happened several times a week. Chaos. Many evacuation positions. Our vehicles were constantly breaking down, and there weren't enough of them.
It was even easier in Mykolaiv than in Kherson: guys from my medical unit would go out for evacuations, bring the wounded to the stabilization point, I would bandage them, and administer IV drips. And if the condition was critical, they could be taken straight to the hospital, which was relatively close. Yes, the city was shelled, but not constantly. In Bakhmut, the hospital was far away, and it suffered from shelling. Surrounding towns and villages were under fire.
Secondly, there were completely different types of injuries. And there were more and more of them. If in the south it was mainly shrapnel, then here bullets from close combat were added to mines and rockets.
Many direct hits on the blindages. Injured and severed limbs, fingers, injured faces, and major arteries. Some injuries were not compatible with life.
In Mykolaiv, it used to be that we would drive out two or three times a month. Sometimes it was unnecessary because the injuries turned out to be minor. I constantly scolded myself, thinking that we weren't doing enough and that we needed to go further to save lives. In Bakhmut, I completely reassessed this mentality.
Initially, our medical unit consisted of five medics and five drivers. Until the rotation, the guys were constantly driving out and were well-coordinated. But at the beginning of the Bakhmut period, our evacuation brigades consecutively got under fire. Luckily, everyone survived, but some were wounded, and some of them severely.
There is a commander, but he doesn't drive out. Two more medics stay put to take care of somatically ill patients. So in just a week, there were only three of us left: one driver, one young surgeon, and me. And the three of us were responsible for the evacuation of the battalion for these two months.
During my very first mission, a soldier died. We received a radio message that there was a direct hit on the position, and two soldiers were lightly wounded. We drove to the location in our “loaf” (UAZ - Ed.). They couldn't extract the wounded soldiers to the evacuation point, so we had to go directly to the position.
Around us, there were whistling sounds, drones flying, and a big battle going on. We arrived and realized there were already two dead and two seriously wounded soldiers. I shouted that we were given the wrong information.
We quickly loaded the soldiers into the car and drove away. The road was broken, there was shelling, and we were thrown from side to side. The soldiers were lying almost on top of each other because there was not enough space. We quickly assessed the situation.
One had a severe leg bleed, so we applied tourniquets. I switched to the other soldier and saw foam coming from his mouth.
He closed his eyes – and that was it. Just a few minutes. A young man. Tourniquets were on him, so most likely, the explosive wave caused a severe internal injury that was incompatible with life.
We stabilized the first soldier, bandaged the wound, gave pain relief, and wrapped him in a thermal blanket. We took the soldiers to a stabilization point.
On the way back, I felt overwhelmed. I sat and thought about what I could have done, what I didn't consider. I called my colleagues who were in treatment and told them about the situation. They comforted and supported me. They said, "You did everything you could in this situation. Don't blame yourself and focus on the mission."
That day we went out again and saved two more soldiers.
A COMBAT MEDIC'S EVERYDAY LIFE
With barely any experience in evacuation, I became almost the head of the unit in this direction. We slept with armor vests on. There were days when we didn't have time to eat at all. For four weeks straight, we couldn't wash ourselves: no one let us go, as there was no one to replace us.
Every day for an evacuation medic is different. When it's somewhat calm, it goes like this: two-hour shifts on the radio, an early rise, some eat breakfast, some just drink coffee, we report the situation, check readiness for departures, and pick up packages if there are any. Then, there are calls for evacuation, after which we eat. Closer to the night, we try to rest and distribute new radio shift duties.
But in Bakhmut, we were constantly on the move. We drove out 7-8 times a day. Losses. Injuries were very severe, as were evacuation points – the russians were very close. I was often called to the headquarters; we changed positions and evacuation points. Several times we went out for evacuation at night — we had night vision devices for which we did a lot of fundraising.
I can't count how many people we helped. It could be up to thirty people a week – sometimes more, sometimes fewer. Most of those we evacuated survived. There were people from other brigades around, so I didn't just take ours but also from the 3rd, 80th, 120th, and 123rd.
At first, I was very upset and shouting that someone doesn't know how to do something, and time is running out. Sometimes I didn't even have time to put on gloves — it's wrong, but under fire, every second is like the last: you need to hurry as much as possible to save the person and not die yourself.
You need to have people you trust and can work well with nearby.
Everyone should have a first aid kit and think about themselves and their comrades. Our people already know how to apply tourniquets to themselves and their comrades – this is crucial. Sometimes they even bandage and apply an occlusive dressing. But it depends on the person. Some people can do it, while others may forget about the tourniquet in shock. Some people are used to stress, while others vomit, scream, or freeze.
DEATH IS BETTER THAN CAPTIVITY
There was a situation where I was the most scared. We were evacuating, and our “motolyga” (MTLB, short for "multifunctional tracked light armored vehicle" in russian) blew up halfway. To wait out the shelling, we ran to a blindage to the guys from a neighboring brigade.
I was treating a wounded soldier, and we all heard automatic gunfire getting closer. The guys said that there were no friendlies on that side. The radio reports that the orcs are already close, but it's unclear where exactly they are coming from. And the gunfire is getting closer.
I was terrified. There were seven of us. We start counting whether we will have enough grenades to blow ourselves up if we cannot repel the attack.
No one wants to be captured, especially me as a woman.
The tension was insane. Eventually, one of the guys goes out to scout who is approaching. It turns out that it was someone from their own team who was shooting – he was trying to shoot down an orc drone and didn't inform the radio about it.
We breathed a sigh of relief. But the feeling that I could have blown myself up in a couple of minutes is terrible. The comrades shared that they also felt awful.
In all my time in service, I never saw orcs. I saw their positions from far – yes, but not people. Once, when we were at a stabilization point, they brought in two wounded russians. I had no desire to go and lay my eyes on them.
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“PEOPLE THINK THEY COULD HAVE DONE BETTER”
The hardest part is the moral friendly fire. Sometimes people don't understand that not everything depends on the medic. The comrades of the fallen soldier call and say that I didn't save him, but I should have done this and that – and he would still be alive.
There was a situation: a soldier was severely injured in an artery in the pelvic region. Although we arrived quickly, he lost too much blood, and it was already clear that we couldn't save him. We tried, but there was just a tiny chance, only if they had started stopping the bleeding in the first few seconds. But that didn't happen. After this incident, many people called me and said I killed him. It got to the point where my boyfriend convinced me to change my number.
People think they would have done better. But they weren't there then. They think we're gods who, sorry, will glue the soldier's severed head back, and everything will be okay.
I know how difficult it is to cope with the death and injuries of comrades. At the same time, I must say that our mind protects itself from many deaths.
When someone from the battalion dies, whom I didn't know very well, it's painful. But it's not as painful as when it's someone you know closely, someone you've been with day in and day out for nine months. You know how they lived, what their family was like.
Sometimes when someone dies, you blame yourself so much that you can't drive out and help out of fear that it will happen again. My comrades told me that they felt the same way and that supported me. You have to experience this state and move on. Save others so they can come back alive.
A WOMAN AT WAR
In terms of equipment, ammunition, and food in the army, everything is fine. But as a girl, I can complain – they gave me everything as if I were a boy. Boots size 42, the uniform is very big. So I buy things for myself or get them through volunteers.
Some men don't like women in the military. For a while, they didn't trust me and didn't believe that I could save someone. There were people who told me that I only came for my career — even though I'm still just a private. But over the course of this year, especially during the two months in Bakhmut, I proved that I can do my job.
I know the role I play. The guys told me that when I contacted them on the radio, they felt better, happier – just from hearing a woman's voice. It's easier for them when they can just talk to me, or I make them some soup, and sometimes we flirt a bit – it's a healthy story. My comrades and I have been through many difficult situations. Now it feels like a second family.
I have never regretted my choice. The realization of how many guys I and my comrades saved supports me in the hope and belief that we will cope, protect and improve our country.
War amplifies both the best and worst human qualities. Some people will be angry that I say this, but unfortunately, some people even steal during the war, sending home things that we, medics or soldiers, need.
Some are not here to save Ukraine but for the sake of awards, medals, and business promotion. They don't care that our people are dying. This killed my naivety because I came to defend the country like "a little fool."
Three times someone tried to sexually assault me. Fortunately, everything worked out, my comrades protected me. And these attackers no longer serve with us. Specific people do evil, those who use their official positions. They need to be punished.
What troubles me? That wounded soldiers are not given 30 days for rehabilitation. Those who can no longer fight or retire are being sent back to the front. As long as you're fighting, everything is good. But once you're no longer physically able to fight, the attitude changes. But why? This is wrong and needs to be eradicated.
But in my experience, there's more positivity. The main positive thing is people.
I'm impressed by how many beautiful personalities I've met. Volunteers amazed me – they brought me a fully packed medical car. People in Kherson impressed me – they fed us and opened their homes for us. Local kids impressed me – they came to wish me a happy Women’s Day on March 8th.
Friendship in our battalion impresses me, not with everyone, of course, but with the closest ones. There are older men who treat me like a daughter. My dad died when I was very young, I know how hard it is to be without a father. And when I was still in the Czech Republic thinking of going to war, I understood that I could help someone's father, brother, son, or husband come back alive and healthy.
People take care of me, and I take care of them. It's worth fighting for. We need to fight and defend our country for all these good people.
I have someone close to me here. Even a little relationship during the war is good. When there is support from someone who is here and understands the nuances of the events, it is very helpful. My mother and family, of course, support me. But it's hard for them to understand the full depth of what's happening on the front.
Sometimes I shut myself off and don't talk to anyone. The war has affected me. I've become less cheerful and lively than I used to be. More nervous, thoughtful. Communicating with those close to me helps me overcome everything and move on.
Sometimes I remember my desire from last year to become a paratrooper. Before the war, I loved shooting and regularly went to train. Now everything has changed: I have no desire for anything except medicine. And later, I would like to become a combat instructor. Because what we were taught sometimes doesn't match the situations people are in.
Losses hurt the most. Now we constantly remember those who are no longer with us
We remember every day that we can die. That's why we try to live today and do everything to make this day end the best way possible.
Guys react differently. Some are more open, some find it helpful to communicate with their families. Some become aggressive. Some withdraw into themselves, while others shout that they are not afraid of anything. There are guys who want to drink or fight. Sometimes I also feel like getting drunk and forgetting.
Our job is hard. That's why, for example, I don't pay much attention to someone getting drunk or fighting. We've really been through a lot: a year without family, without normal conditions. Everyone lost someone. That's why I can understand the guys.
But mostly everyone is coping well. We support each other: talk, listen to music, watch movies. We argue and makeup.
I would like to encourage people to be kinder to each other, value life more, spend time with their families, and do what they want. Many people live their lives at jobs they don't like, with people they don't like, and follow what others say. It may be a cliché, but I still want people to listen to their desires and follow their dreams. To think for oneself is to listen to oneself.
As for me, joining the military was my choice alone. Yes, nobody likes war. But what I do helps others and myself too. I wanted to do it.
It's important for me to remind people that war concerns everyone.
You can help from anywhere with whatever you can. You have to help in any way you can. No one should sit back and then return to what others fought and died for. Find your place and get involved in the joint fight.
To the military, I want to say, "Stay strong." You are all great and doing an excellent job. Perhaps victory will not come soon, but it will come. I wish you always have faith in God. I hope you know how to apply the tourniquet to yourself and your comrades and that you never have to use your first aid kit.
A few weeks ago, the battalion where Svitlana Shpilka serves was withdrawn from Bakhmut for rehabilitation. The soldiers are resting, receiving reinforcements, and training at the shooting range. Svitlana also has a lot of tasks to complete: checking the medical kits, purchasing medications, and receiving volunteer packages.
One of the most pleasant "gifts" was the newly equipped Nissan Pathfinder evacuation vehicle. The car has a special bed for the comfortable loading the wounded, a defibrillator, oxygen, and automatic drips. The car was refitted and painted by Polish volunteers, according to Svitlana's instructions, brought into Ukraine, and all of it was financed by the "Techiia Foundation."
"Volunteers Andriy and Olena, who import cars from Poland, asked me what I would like to see in the car. But I didn't even think it would arrive. A whole chain of people worked on it because they simply liked my story," says Shamanka.