Images of soldiers returning from the front in Eastern Ukraine | CBC News (2024)

After nearly two and a half years of war, it is unclear how many Ukrainian soldiers have been killed or injured. However, the limited data released suggests it's well into the tens of thousands.

CBC News recently gained access to a medical evacuation bus transporting injured soldiers from the front line to a hospital in Dnipro Oblast in Eastern Ukraine.

The 25 patients evacuated on the volunteer-run bus included men who had been conscripted under the new mobilization law and were sent to the front with only very basic training, along with those who volunteered to fight early on in the war.

Here is what a few of them told us.

Images of soldiers returning from the front in Eastern Ukraine | CBC News (1)

Hit by a grenade launcher

Most active Ukrainian soldiers will allow themselves to be identified only by their call sign. This 39-year-old IT specialist is known as "WIFI,"and his time at the front line was brief. He was injured after two and a half days on the front. He had been stationed at a position near Pokrovsk in the Donetsk region, an area Ukrainian officials have described as experiencing some of the most challenging fighting along the front.

WIFI told CBC News that he was in a trench just a few hours earlier, helping to fortify it, when it came under attack. He said they came under fire from a Russian automatic grenade launcher.

Images of soldiers returning from the front in Eastern Ukraine | CBC News (2)

After the first shot, he said, fragments flew into his thigh."It felt like a syringe injection,"he said.

The second shot hit him in his opposite foot.

"It was red-hot and immediately, there was a sharp pain and numbness of the foot."

He applied tourniquets to his limbs in an effort to reduce the bleeding. But oncetightened, he found it impossible to even crawl out of the trench so he had to be carried out by two of his fellow soldiers.

When CBC News spoke with him, he was lying on a stretcher outside of an undisclosed pickup point, messaging his mother.

Images of soldiers returning from the front in Eastern Ukraine | CBC News (3)

He said had been exempt from conscription because he has cancer,which is in remission, but when Ukraine passed thenew mobilization law, it removed some medical exemptions, and he became eligible.

He said military officers turned up at his home in Poltava near the end of April. After receiving about two months of training, he was sent to the front and could be back there again after he heals.

It will be up to a medical commissioner to decide whether he is able to be called up again.

"It was very difficult both mentally and physically,"he said of his time at the front.

Pinned under a tank

Images of soldiers returning from the front in Eastern Ukraine | CBC News (4)

Before this 34-year-old soldier, who goes by the call sign "Liahk," was mobilized in April and sent to the front a month ago, he worked as an accountant in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

He was in a tank on the front line in the Donetsk region when, at around 7 a.m. local timeon June 19, it was hit by a Lancet drone. The drone, which self-destructs when it crashes into targets, was first used by Russia in Syria and has been used repeatedly in Ukraine to target weapons and artillery on the ground.

Images of soldiers returning from the front in Eastern Ukraine | CBC News (5)

After the tank was struck, part of the turret collapsed, pinning Liahk and his commander inside. The driver of the tank was able to get out and started to pull Liahk out, too, but then he yelled out that he needed to try to restart the tank, because they were likely going to come under fire a second time.

"It was a miracle the tank started, so he drove us out," Liahk told CBC News as he winced in pain and waited to board the evacuation bus.

As they drove out of the combat zone, the commander keptLiahktalking before himself losing consciousness and lapsing into a coma.

Images of soldiers returning from the front in Eastern Ukraine | CBC News (6)

A narrow escape

A soldier with the call sign "Kniaz," which means prince in Ukrainian, stood out among the group of soldiers CBC met, because he is 60 years old. On June 19, Kniaz was driving a military vehicle toward Avdiivka, which was seized by Russian forces in February, when his vehicle was struck by a projectile dropped by a first-person view (FPV) drone.

Shrapnel pierced his head, shoulder, arms and leg. He says his ability to escape from the vehicle quickly saved his life because the vehicle went up in flames soon after.

Images of soldiers returning from the front in Eastern Ukraine | CBC News (7)

"The drones bother us the worst," he told CBC News. "We don't have as many as the bastard Russians."

Unlike some of the others being evacuated, he volunteered to fight at the start of Russia's invasion on Feb. 24, 2022. He also previously fought against Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk in 2017.

"It is a duty of every man to defend his motherland," he said.

Images of soldiers returning from the front in Eastern Ukraine | CBC News (8)

Calming fears andtending to injuries

Tatiana Romaniuk, 33, isn't a soldier, but does have a call sign: "Rudy," which means redhead, a nod to her long, copper hair. She is a combat medic with Hospitallers, a group of volunteer paramedics, and spends two weeks a month transporting injured soldiers to hospital.

The repurposed bus transporting soldiers hassix beds inside along with medical equipment. On the day CBC visited, it was sweltering inside, and a heavy smell of sweat and blood hung in the air. Romaniuk estimated it was 40 degrees C inside the bus.

Images of soldiers returning from the front in Eastern Ukraine | CBC News (9)

The most seriously injured were transported by stretcher to the beds and hooked up right away to medical equipment that measured their heart rate and oxygen levels. The rest were crammed on board in whatever space was available. A lucky few got seats while others sat in the aisle.

Medical evacuations can happen with very little advance notice. When soldiers are injured at the front, they receive immediate medical care at military stabilization points and are then transported to a pick-up point, where they are met by the Hospitallers and transported to hospital.

Images of soldiers returning from the front in Eastern Ukraine | CBC News (10)

Romaniuk says the most difficult part of a medical transport is if a soldier deteriorates en route, as happened to one patient while CBC was on the bus. Upon arrival at the hospital, the soldier required emergency surgery for shrapnel embedded in his spine.

Romaniuk said the first thing one soldier who had been inured after only a week at the front wanted to do when he got on the bus wasborrow her cellphone and call his family.

She said a common question all soldiers ask her while they are being transported is whether their limbs will need to be amputated.

"They are worried about how it will be, what they will do next and what their life will be like," she said.

Images of soldiers returning from the front in Eastern Ukraine | CBC News (11)

Images of soldiers returning from the front in Eastern Ukraine | CBC News (2024)

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