'Guys are dying': Inside a fortified hospital full of wounded soldiers braced for Russian attack

·3-min read

The corridors are dimly lit and the windows are covered by sandbags, all adding to the sense of a military hospital at a time of war.

We have been allowed into a military hospital on the promise we don't give away its location, except to say that it's in eastern Ukraine, back from the frontlines.

They are worried it could be targeted by Russian air strikes, and for good reason - other hospitals have been struck. It is heavily fortified.

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The faded, chipped murals of cartoons jar with the sight of the walking wounded limping gingerly around the wards.

There is a strong smell of chlorine coming from one room and a groan from another.

The ICU is now so busy, they have put beds in the hallways. These patients are all suffering from horrific burns, caused by explosions.

They are covered in yellow antiseptic iodine to stop their wounds from becoming infected - and most of them just lie still, not talking, not moving, but under heavy sedation to dull the agonising pain.

Behind the doors, injured soldiers fill the beds, happy to have survived, and happy to share their stories.

"It was not fighting but shelling. We took a defensive position and we were under shelling, and we were hit," says Oleksandr, a soldier who was injured a few weeks ago in the Donbas.

"There was an explosion. I lifted my arm and it was just hanging. Something hit me in the arm. I didn't know what happened. Later I lifted my arm and it was hanging.

He shows me, his right hand now hanging limp from the metal frame drilled into his bones for support.

"The guys know what they're fighting for. They know what's at stake. The spirit… we are fighting for our land and our country so we have spirit. It's impossible to break that spirit. If young guys and older men are coming back from abroad to fight for Ukraine, the spirit is invincible."

The number of soldiers being killed and wounded every single day is huge - too great to sustain. They are operating on soldiers here around the clock and many of the staff have left their jobs, traumatised by what they were seeing.

"Now all beds are busy," a senior surgeon says."All beds and one floor more than in regular times. In regular regime, for example before war, we have a centre for 40 beds. Just now we have twice the beds."

Trying to establish accurate casualty figures is almost impossible, but President Zelenskyy recently revealed that between 60 and 100 Ukrainian soldiers are being killed every day and as many as 500 wounded. The true figure could well be much higher.

"Guys are dying. It's very unpleasant," says Bohdan, who was injured in Luhansk. "The injuries are unpleasant as well - it's very often due to shrapnel.

"Our guys will never give up, no matter how long it takes because we are in our home. We are fighting for our land, for our home. So we have spirit.

"It's so unpleasant because this is not a normal fight, but artillery shellings. That's why there are a lot of shrapnel injuries. It's very unpleasant to be in that situation because it's an unequal battle. It's hard to endure."

And yet, every soldier we speak to says they will go back and fight when they recover. If they recover.

Because when you're fighting to defend your own country, your own people - the risk is worth it.

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