Força Ukraine Update- Week 2: March 16th, 2024

Dear friends –

The team is back in Dnipro, the last major city before the eastern areas of Ukraine and a primary hub for international organizations here providing aid to Ukraine. We spent the first two weeks in the field, initially in the Donetsk area before moving north from there to a previously occupied area outside of Izyum. The devastation that we witnessed in and around the previously occupied areas is indescribable – whole villages reduced to rubble from shelling, homes abandoned, utter devastation. Over the past week, we had the chance to work with medics who have been actively involved in providing pre-hospital care for the past year, mainly in the contested areas. The stories they told were horrifying – the injuries they have seen, the prolonged field care that is necessary due to the long or utter lack of evacuation, the losses. These medics had amazing skills, almost all learned on the job, with little to no formalized training. In our time with them, we helped them refine their existing skill set and get them formalized training on some of the more advanced skills like surgical airways and whole blood. Despite Ukraine changing its laws regarding whole blood administration in the field, it is still a new concept and not yet widely adopted – most of the medics had not received training previously. However, we were able to mentor two of the medics through the teaching process, allowing them to now provide training on the technique to others. That is ultimately the goal we are striving for here – to build an organic capability within Ukraine to train – develop the future Ukrainian leaders in the field.

The evidence of the war was clear across the village we stayed in as well – while we were housed in what was previously a beautiful summer home, a multi-bedroom, multi-story house complete with pool and sauna, the entire home had been looted when the occupying forces retreated. It was stripped of everything – pipes, wiring, toilets – and was left trashed. Fortunately, our gracious hosts were able to provide us with a generator and enough firewood to heat the single room where we all bunked up. Despite their own significantly more challenging conditions, our hosts ensured they did all they could for us. They made sure we were fed, brought us into their homes for meals, and provided for us. We built a field toilet, made a table out of a door and a bed frame, and it all ended up feeling pretty comfortable. I remain in awe of this team and the people I am lucky enough to work with – not only are they the best trainers I have ever seen, they are willing to go where the work is most critical, despite the living and working conditions. They are fully committed – all in, all the time.

No trip would be complete without some unforeseen calamity, and this one has been no different. On our last night in the village, a fortunately unoccupied home caught fire. Unsurprisingly, the local fire service is perhaps not what we are used to in the US, and the single structure quickly became a second home, both fully involved. When I say I am so proud of this team and who they are as providers and people, their actions this night is a big part of why. Yulia, Bohdan, and Viktoriia helped pack all of our personal gear in the event we would have to evacuate, they also helped Dr. Steve and Emily set up a make-shift casualty collection point in case of injuries. Finch helped me outside, ensuring the valuable gear in other houses was safely moved out of the area of potential threat. Emily worked as an intermediary to understand the situation outside, while standing by to assist with any injuries. It was also incredibly helpful to have Finch and Emily – both firefighters – to provide a cogent assessment of the situation and risk to the team, I am so grateful for them. Ironically, some of the same people who had helped us last summer when our tent was destroyed in a major storm were in the home we helped evacuate – things tend to come full circle in Ukraine. Ultimately, both houses were extinguished with minimal losses other than the structure itself. The team unpacked our sleeping gear and got our last night of sleep at that location.

This weekend in Dnipro will provide the team a much-needed reset after the last two weeks in the field. We have already given out most of our medical donations – nearly $8,000 in gear all thanks to your generosity – but have the ability to purchase more here. We will be meeting our friends at Dnipro TQ on Monday before we leave for our next training location to purchase another 100 tourniquets. It also gives us a chance to celebrate one of my favorite humans – Dr. Steve – for his birthday and to say goodbye to a teammate – Finch – who has to depart to return to the US. Joy and sorrow run in parallel here.

As always, we are so appreciative of your support – your generous donations make any of this possible at all, your emails and messages lift our spirits. We know how lucky we are to be the ones here on the ground doing this work, to have these experiences, and to have you standing with us as one huge team. As I said before, there is a direct line from you, through us, to the providers here on the ground who are actively saving lives. On behalf of all of us here, thank you.

In gratitude – Mike

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