On Ukraine’s Front Lines

The Wagner paramilitary group’s brief mutiny in Russia and the fallout from it has eclipsed attention on the war in Ukraine over the past few days. The war slogs on in the meantime: Russian soldiers kill or wound as many as thousands of Ukrainian troops a week, adding to the invasion’s toll.

My colleagues Yousur Al-Hlou, Masha Froliak and Ben Laffin published a striking video today from the front lines, following Ukrainian combat medics. Before the war, they were civilian doctors and nurses. Now, they treat their wounded countrymen while trying to protect themselves from artillery fire and rocket attacks. I urge you to watch the video, which changed how I look at the sacrifice Ukrainians have been forced to make.

I spoke to Yousur and Masha about their experience following these medics for a week.

German: What is the mood among Ukrainian medics, more than a year into the war?

Masha: They compared the grinding workload to the film “Groundhog Day,” reliving the same day over and over and losing sense of whether it’s day or night. They have been living in that hospital, as well as working there. They’re tired. They don’t have a sense of when this is going to end.

What they say in the video has an existential sense to it. They seem motivated to keep going because they feel their country needs them.

Yousur: They’re not just defending their country. They’re defending their families’ lives and their own lives. It’s a very personal struggle. It’s a very personal motivation — a very personal risk.

One of the doctors asks: “How could I not take this on? How could I not be at this frontline hospital? How can I not risk my life if it’s in service of protecting my family and protecting my country?” They acknowledge they have fatigue. They acknowledge that they have doubts about when this conflict might end. But they also have this relentless motivation.

Masha: One doctor said these young soldiers were the same age as her child. She spoke about imagining it’s her child in the operating room — and she just wants to hug and protect them all.

It seems like an important point: As tired as they may be, these doctors are not giving up on the war.

Yousur: That’s right. These doctors were not shy about voicing the toll the war is having on them. But it doesn’t negate their motivation and their hatred toward the enemy — feelings they also expressed openly. These feelings live in parallel.

What were their lives like before the invasion?

Yousur: They were anesthesiologists, surgeons, nurses and so on at civilian hospitals. They were wearing white coats. When the invasion began last year, their lives changed drastically.

It is a nearly universal aspect of the war. Once it began, a lot of civilians suddenly found themselves in service of their country. People volunteered to stitch camouflage nets for soldiers. Grandmothers made Molotov cocktails. Similarly, these doctors began working practically overnight in a frontline military hospital having to tend to the wounded amid rocket fire.

Watch the video, which includes one scene in which the combat medics confront the task of treating a Russian prisoner of war — and not all of them feel comfortable helping someone they view as the enemy.

  • Vladimir Putin is planning to punish those who enabled Yevgeny Prigozhin’s rebellion, but the Wagner leader’s deep ties to the Moscow elite are making that difficult.

  • Sergei Surovikin, the general said to have known about the revolt in advance, has not been seen publicly since early Saturday.

  • An unlikely obstacle has slowed Ukraine’s counteroffensive: flat, open fields. These illustrations and maps show why the terrain makes advancing so difficult.

  • President Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus may have brokered the deal between Putin and Wagner’s leader, but he still cuts a pathetic figure as a Russian pawn, Thomas Graham writes for Times Opinion.

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