Story #69. The Death of Comrades During Enemy Fire

March 1, 2023
The story of Ukrainian soldier Ihor Gannenko, who survived the enemy fire but lost his comrades. #UkraineWorldTestimony

Before the full-scale Russian invasion, Ihor Gannenko was the director of a youth center. He traveled the world with his wife and was even a deputy o the Sumy Oblast Council. But everything changed on February 24, and Ihor took up arms to defend Ukraine.

In his free time, Ihor has kept a blog in which he records the events that happened to him during this war. We are publishing Ihor's story about being hit by a mortar in his voice.

An explosion. I open my eyes and I can't understand what is happening. Launch, 2 seconds, hit. The enemy decided to scare us with mortars.

The third explosion, and only now Kapral and I realize that we were sleeping without body armor and helmets, which are near our shallow "pit." We had let our guard down, like idiots. 

— "Now, once the shell lands, I'll quickly jump out and pull the bulletproof vests here, you will help me get 'em on," - says Kapral.

— "OK".

Another shell falls closer. Usain Bolt himself would have envied the speed with which Kapral grabbed the bulletproof vests and got back down. We quickly get the vests on and try to stay as low as possible into the ground. The deeper you are in the ground, the better chances you have to survive. It was good that the day before we had decided to deepen our trench by 10 centimeters. It was bad that it wasn't by 20-30.

A few shells fall even closer, and we realize that it was not just fire to "scare."

Russian mortars were adjusting their fire, which means that an enemy drone with a thermal imager was flying somewhere above us. And this means that we could only hope that the enemy would run out of ammunition before they hit us.

In such moments, the brain does not want to think at all. In movies, we see it as the main characters having their lives, loved ones, and other things flashing before their eyes. It's all stupid — the brain is just empty, an information vacuum. You just squeeze your legs together so that when the shrapnel arrives, it doesn't immediately cut your artery, and you have a chance to apply a tourniquet and not bleed out.

A few more hits, and silence ensues.

— "It's finally over," I say.

— "Wait, it's a trap," replies Kapral, who already had combat experience in 2015-16. I have no reason not to believe him, so I continue to hold myself against the ground.


— "Who has a walkie-talkie, guys?" - we hear the cry of our friend Vedmid (Bear) from afar.

— "We don't have one, we don't know," we shout.

— "We need to ask for artillery support, otherwise we will all be killed here," shouts Vedmid, "The walkie-talkie is probably with the commander, I'll be back soon."

— "Don't go, the drone is correcting. They'll see your movement and hit again."


But he couldn't hear us anymore. Here we heard the shell launch again and laid down. As Kapral said, it was a trap for inexperienced soldiers. I hope that Vedmid has managed to lie down in some hole.

A few more shells fall very close to us, and we hear screams that are more like the roar of a wounded animal. A person simply cannot shout like that.

— "I'm injured. AAAAH! Help!", - we recognize Vedmid's voice somewhere behind us.

— "Where are you wounded?", - Kapral tries to shout to him.

— "Leg! LEEEEEG!" - we hear Mishka's (that was his name) inhuman scream.

— "Put a tourniquet on!"

— "I can't, my hand!"

We understand that Vedmid has been badly cut by shrapnel, and no one but us can help him.

We do not see him, but only hear his screams and understand that he is lying 15 meters from us. Dragging a wounded man during shelling is not the best idea, but we impulsively decided that we had to do it anyway.

— "We will drag him between the hits" - Kapral said.

— "They just fired. Now!" - I answered, considering that we have a few seconds between launch and landing.

We jump up and rush to the wounded Vedmid. We feel the straps of his body armor and begin to pull him toward our trench. He weighs about 110 kilograms, if not more. He tries to grab my arm, but he can't do it, because both his arms are riddled with shrapnel and are hanging only by a part of muscle and tendon. He continues to scream in pain and because we are dragging him very roughly through the bushes, but there is simply no other way.

We hear another launch from the mortar barrel and immediately find ourselves in our trench, while Vedmid remains lying in the bushes.

— "You bastards" - was all Kapral said before we jumped out again to drag our wounded comrade into our trench.


Only on the third time do we manage to move Mishka to our position. A few more shells fall, but we don't care about them anymore, because we have started examining his wounds.

"Yeah, an arm and a leg," I think, and I try to find his first-aid kit, "Where's your first-aid kit, where's the first-aid kit?", I'm about to scream. But I only hear the same inhuman shriek.

OK, the first aid kit must be on his vest, and at least one tourniquet must be on the body armor. I find it and put it on his leg. Immediately I feel a thick, warm liquid on my hands. Damn it, at all the training they said that you have to wear gloves, but what the hell are gloves, if it's just a couple of minutes more until he just bleeds out. Okay, I hope he doesn't have any deadly diseases.

Ihor and his comrade Kapral put tourniquets on both Vedmid's arms and made sure that his lungs were intact. Then they turned him over and realized that he had his scapula sticking out of his back. Just a living bone without muscles and skin. Without urgent evacuation, Vedmid had little chance of surviving.

When Ihor began to shout about calling an evacuation vehicle, he heard the scream of another wounded soldier. It was Danya, and he had a bleeding leg. Ihor stopped his bleeding, after which Danya and Vedmid were dragged into a car that had just arrived.

That night, three of Ihor's comrades were seriously wounded and two, including the commander, died. It was an extremely hard moment for him.

"Unfortunately, we would never see sunrises or sunsets together again. We stood around the dead and for a few seconds, everyone seemed to be saying goodbye. Everyone understood - we would never meet again. Unless in another world. Watching this, I felt completely sick. I felt sorry for the guys. I couldn't hold back my emotions anymore, and the lump in my throat only got bigger. Without a word, I took a couple of steps away and turned away from the guys, and tears rolled down my cheeks..." Ihor wrote.

This material was prepared with financial support from the International Renaissance Foundation.

Related articles

June 20, 2022

Story #26. Life During the Occupation of Hostomel

The story of Olena's family, who survived the occupation and evacuation from a village near Hostomel.
March 15, 2023

What Happens if Russia Wins?

Watch our new video about the possible consequences of Ukraine's defeat.