Story #84. What Is It Like to Be a Paramedic at War?

March 29, 2023
The story of Kateryna Halushka. #UkraineWorldTestimony

Kateryna Halushka, call sign "OON" (UN), is a 25-year-old  paramedic with the Hospitallers volunteer medic battalion. It was Kateryna who served the model for the Lego's Ukrainian female paramedic figure.

Kateryna first went to the front at the age of 22, when she was studying history at university. As she learned about the relationship between Ukraine and Russia, came to understand the causes of the war that began in 2014, and spoke to wounded soldiers, she decided to get a paramedic certificate and join the fight for Ukrainian victory.

On February 24, 2022, when the full-scale Russian invasion began, Kateryna became a paramedic crew commander. Over the first year of the full-scale war, she saved the lives of soldiers and civilians in Kyiv Oblast and eastern Ukraine.

On March 5, 2022, Kateryna's beloved, 27-year-old Anton Gevak, callsign "Perun," was killed while trying to break the siege of Mariupol. Since then, her struggle has become even more determined.

What does a paramedic feel during war?

"A paramedic at war is a person who helps, saves lives, and unfortunately has to collect bodies in a black bag and carry dead heroes back.

It is an experience of blood, dirt, gratitude, and anger from the wounded (yes, sometimes medics are considered bad because "the tourniquet hurts" or "the painkiller isn't working well," etc.)

It means washing blood off your clothes and your car. It means writing the name of another person who will come home dead and listening to their story.

Is it hard morally? Yes, it's fucking hard. Because it's not normal when you and your friends/colleagues have to fight for lives every day or hold the bodies that death has just taken away. It's not normal that we have to look at torn limbs and sometimes put soldiers back together in pieces because of Russia. Because war itself isn't normal.

When people you love have died in the war, or are fighting, or are in captivity, you also feel anxiety, pain, and fear for them every day. Every time you smile, everything inside you shrinks, because someone will never smile at you again, because someone is crying over the body of their loved one, because someone is going through terrible torment in our enemy's torture chambers. When some of this passes through your hands, with you, or in front of your eyes, you hold on to the last drop of faith that sooner or later it will finally get better.

You want to cry, scream, hate, love, hide, and fight. When people tell me that I have nerves of steel or am strong, I thank them, but in my head I think, "Hold on, in 2-3 years you'll be broken, and then we'll see if you're strong enough."

Everyone has their own measure of resilience. Every time shit happens, I think, "That's it, you're done." But I'm never finished. I calm down, find the strength to get up in the morning, and keep going."

"Every day I suffer from loss. But I simply have no right to give up."

Kateryna says that when she feels burnout, she remembers why and for whom she started all this. The psyche of everyone involved in the war is traumatized in any case. You will never be the same as you were "before."

Despite all the challenges and losses, being a paramedic in the war is also about friendship, love, faith, and hope, Kateryna explains. It's a great job, no matter what you face. Because thanks to this work, it is possible to save the lives of Ukraine's defenders.

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