The American medics helping to keep Ukraine’s soldiers alive

Inspired by President Zelenskyy, a group of US volunteers are sharing their expertise in emergency care

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With a cigarette dangling from his lips, Barry Haynes looks like he would rather be doing anything other than talking with the media.

The 47-year-old is itching to get on a plane that will take him halfway around the world — back to where he’s spent much of the past four months: the front lines of eastern Ukraine.

A former US Army infantryman, Mr Haynes is a member of Task Force Yankee Ukraine, a team of medical volunteers, many with past military experience, who have set out to train and assist Ukrainian security forces and others with emergency medical care.

“When I saw that phone video of [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy outside the parliament on the night that Russia invaded Ukraine, I made a decision to go,” he says. “I wanted to do something.”

In Kyiv, Bakhmut and elsewhere, Mr Haynes has helped train thousands of people in recent months.

“It gives the soldiers hope because if they believe they are going to survive getting injured as a result of the training we are giving them, that helps them envision a future where they do get to go back to their families,” he says.

And Mr Haynes isn’t alone in his efforts.

While its western allies have poured military aid into the country, an enormous medical emergency effort has unfolded in Ukraine, with teams from Finland, Norway, the US and a host of other nations playing a crucial role in providing tactical combat casualty care to thousands of civilians and soldiers.

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These efforts have helped save countless lives over the past year.

“Our greatest need is obtaining finances to supply medicine and equipment to Ukrainians in need. As the war continues, this need may increase,” says George Hrycelak, executive director of the Ukrainian Medical Association of North America.

The organisation has sent about 20 medical volunteers to Ukraine and neighbouring Poland to help with relief efforts.

But recent weeks have highlighted the increasingly dangerous environment international medical workers face.

On February 2, Pete Reed, an American medical volunteer who had previously provided emergency support in Iraq, was killed in Bakhmut. In early January, two British aid workers were killed in the nearby town of Soledar while reportedly attempting a humanitarian evacuation of an elderly woman. On February 14, a paramedic from Scotland was killed.

Soledar, a small town in the Donetsk region, was occupied by Russian forces in mid-January following fierce fighting, while Bakhmut has been under bombardment from Russian troops and Wagner Group mercenaries for weeks.

“There’s a huge need for Ifak kits and Israeli bandages,” says Mr Haynes. An Ifak kit contains essential emergency items such as burn dressings, gauze, ibuprofen, scissors, gloves, a chest seal tourniquet and other items, while Israeli bandages are trauma pressure bandages designed for haemorrhagic wounds.

Mr Haynes previously served in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq with the US Army. When he returned to the US after being injured in Iraq, he says he didn’t want to work a desk job, or found that the kind of jobs that were available didn’t match his skill set.

So, when the opportunity to help people in Ukraine presented itself one year ago, he first thought about whether his military combat experience could help Ukrainians fend off the Russian invasion.

“But with my age and injuries, I took a step back, and [instead] looked into the humanitarian aid side of things,” he says.

Frontline aid volunteers in Ukraine's firing line — video

Frontline aid volunteers in Ukraine's firing line

Frontline aid volunteers in Ukraine's firing line

Leaving Ohio behind, he took a flight first to Munich and then to Krakow in October. That was followed by a 22-hour bus journey across the border to Kyiv.

“When I got to Kyiv, there were Iranian drones dropping everywhere,” he says.

He met up with his Task Force Yankee colleagues and set about giving casualty training classes for court judges, police and civilians.

“We taught about 5,000 people in that first month,” he says. “We went a full month without a day’s rest.”

Soon, however, he realised that the need was greater on the front lines in eastern Ukraine than in Kyiv and began to help deliver medical aid to the south and east of the country.

“I figured that we need to go to them. That way, we can get more of them done, and we can move from unit to unit and deliver Ifaks at the same time,” he says.

In Bakhmut, Mr Haynes and his colleagues slept in an empty swimming pool in an abandoned spa.

“There was dirt falling on us all night from the shelling,” he says. “When we woke up one morning, the building next to us had been destroyed by a shell.”

He says one benefit of having former military people helping to provide medical support on the front lines is that the dangerous conditions are not a new experience for them, which means they can work more effectively to help the injured.

As he waits for a visa that will allow him to return to Ukraine, Mr Haynes is planning on reaching out to hospitals in Ohio to ask for medical donations.

“We need needles, bandages, things like that [to] get it shipped over, then we pick it up in Lviv [in eastern Ukraine] and take it around to where it’s needed,” he says.

“I’m trying to get a US pipeline going.”

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Updated: March 03, 2023, 6:00 PM