Here the victims have faces – POLITICO

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Expressed by artificial intelligence.

Yegor Firsov is a combat paramedic in Avdiikva, Ukraine. He is an activist and former member of the Ukrainian Parliament.

AVDIIKVA – It feels weird to be here; an adult man with a beard, carrying a rifle.

It’s strange tending to the wounded and carrying them on stretchers through the alleys and across the fields. I used to walk with my grandmother, holding her hand, where I rode my bike and went fishing with friends, so carefree.

I am writing this from Avdiivka, a town 10 kilometers from Donetsk. I was born and raised in Donetsk, but my grandmother lived here. I used to spend a lot of time with her and even went to school here for several years. But these days I serve as a tactical medic – and it’s one of the fiercest frontlines in Ukraine.

My grandmother’s house, where my father grew up, is now destroyed. And my parents’ house, a few kilometers away in Donetsk, has not been accessible since 2014, when Russia first occupied part of Donbass.

That’s the right word – occupied – but for a long time the world didn’t want to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that Ukraine had been invaded.

But it is not only the West that has tried to dodge this terrible reality. We, too, Ukrainians.

In 2014, when Russia started its war against our country nine years ago, I left Donbass for Kyiv. I understand now that I didn’t really leave, I fled the war. But it turns out you can’t run away from war. It is a challenge that you cannot escape and must meet. It catches up with you, your family, your loved ones.

And so my circle of fate closed: I am back where I started, back in my home region – now armed with a gun and a medical backpack slung over my shoulder.

As I fight in Avdiivka, my mind is filled with childhood memories. I often pass along a road where a large unexploded shell sticks out — 15 years ago this was the road I used to take to school when I lived with my grandmother. I used to walk along this path with my childhood sweetheart. Now I take the wounded there. The truck cabin still smells of blood and wounds.

I relive in my head the city I knew so long ago, bright days filled with childhood joy. Two parallel worlds exist in my head. And, in a way, the world of the past helps me escape the horrors I witness today. But there is a constant mental conflict – it hurts to see where I was once so happy to be destroyed.

Sometimes I try to avoid looking towards the ruins of the school where I studied as a child. In May, it was transformed into a humanitarian center where volunteers brought food to residents. Teachers and young people who distributed food to the elderly asked me to teach them how to apply a tourniquet and what to do in case of injury. I enjoyed teaching them and revisiting the classrooms. Shortly after, the school was destroyed by a Russian barrage.

As incredible as it may seem, even now people do not want to leave Avdiivka | Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images

I sometimes wonder why there is so much cruelty in the world. I used to teach history at another nearby school which was also razed, although it survived World War II.

It’s like Russia is trying to erase my past. I wonder if they understand that by killing the peaceful past in our minds, they are replacing it with hatred towards them.

My father constantly called, wanting to know more about my grandmother’s house, where he had once hoped to see her retire. I hid the truth from him for a while and assured him that everything was fine. But one day, I was in a bad mood.

“Dad, listen, the house is gone; it was destroyed. First, the windows were shattered by explosions. Then a shell hit the walls. Our house is no longer there. Forget. I’m busy! I’ll call you back later.

My father was devastated and I immediately regretted telling him the truth.

Knowing that I am here, my friends from Avdiivka often call with similar requests to check their houses or collect things from their apartments. One day a classmate who had left town a month earlier called and asked to see if her beloved flowers were still in bloom.

“Ira, what flowers? ! People are dying here,” I replied. Then I hung up.

That’s when I realized that people were hurting and they couldn’t accept what they had lost – everything they had lived with for decades of their lives, where they went to bed every night and woke up every day, year after year. . Where they loved, where they suffered heartache, where they cried and laughed. . .

As incredible as it may seem, even now people do not want to leave Avdiivka, although there has been no electricity, water or gas for many months. And civilians are dying almost every day.

For months I worried about my former class teacher, Inna Vladimirovna, who stayed here until June, enduring the shelling. I felt responsible, but she ignored all my attempts to persuade her to leave. I even wrote to my classmates, asking them to call him. But it was all useless – until a shell flew right into his house.

She miraculously survived, but her son was injured. It was only this that convinced her to flee.

Before the war, more than 20,000 people lived here. Now there are only a few thousand left. They cook over open fires and sleep in basements.

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I think everyone here has their own reasons for staying | Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images

But I think everyone here has their own reasons for staying: some are more afraid of leaving than living under bombardment; some are attached to their homes; some have bedridden parents. There are also some waiting to fight Russian soldiers.

Once in the spring when I was looking to buy some milk, I was walking through the residential area and came across an old man with a cow. He gave me 3 liters of milk and categorically refused to take any money. He explained how his wife died in a bombing in 2016; her daughter was disabled. When I told him he better go, he pointed to his barn and his cow and said, “Where am I, an old man, supposed to go?”

In addition to tactical military doctors, a civilian doctor, Vitaly Vyacheslavovich, also continues to live and work in Avdiivka. He gets angry when he is advised to leave. “How can I leave my town?! There are still people here,” he said.

Vyacheslavovich is my hero. Every time I see him or talk to him on the phone, he exudes energy and optimism. I don’t know how he does it. His hospital has already been bombed several times.

Loss figures may seem like mere statistics in Kyiv. But here in Avdiivka they have faces.

What grand purpose could justify erasing them?


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