As 15-year-old Liza Chernichenko pressed the accelerator pedal as she frantically drove through the Donetsk region, she realized she had been shot in both legs, but with four other people in the car, including two men bleeding profusely, she continued to drive, even as Russian forces continued firing
“There was no fear, there was no shock,” said Chernichenko, who spoke to CBC from her hospital bed in Lviv.
“There was just a determination to move on.”
Chernichenko, who had planned to hide with his godmother and try to wait out the relentless barrage near his community of Komyshuvakha, ended up fleeing after two men were injured in an attack and needed someone one to drive them to the hospital.
His dramatic escape on May Day came as Russian forces stepped up their assault on Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, where they aim to capture more of Donetsk and Luhansk, while taking full control from Mariupol, where an unknown number of Ukrainian fighters remain at the Azovstal steel plant.
On Saturday, Ukrainian officials confirmed that all women, children and the elderly had been evacuated from the sprawling Soviet-era steel plant, while other residents of besieged areas in eastern Ukraine continue to make arduous journeys west out of the immediate war zone.
Chernichenko told CBC that after hearing the shelling, she cycled from her home to where two men were lying injured by shrapnel.
In the ensuing commotion, she decided the men should go to the hospital in Bakhmut, a community about an hour’s drive away. One of the injured men had a car that could take them there, but given the heavy fighting nearby, no one wanted to drive.
So Chernichenko took the wheel.
The two injured got into the car with one of their wives and another man who offered to help them navigate.
Drive to avoid mines
She says that on leaving the village, they passed under a bridge and she saw mines a few hundred meters in front of her, posed like “chess pieces” which she had to cross.
Further down the road, a pole was split in half, and next to one of the halves lay the body of a woman.
Chernichenko, who already knew how to drive, says that around a bend, she and her passengers suddenly came under fire from Russian forces.
She was hit and the car too. Its engine stalled briefly before restarting.
With her legs bleeding and the pain radiating to her feet, she was relieved when 20 minutes into the trip they came upon Ukrainian troops who took control and took everyone to hospital.
Chernichenko had been hit by at least four bullets and her baby toe on her left foot had been ripped off.
As she tells the story from her hospital bed, she is sure of herself and speaks with confidence that she had no choice but to act.
At 15, she projects the image of someone who has spent years taking care of her.
But when a doctor comes to tell her that she has to change her bandages, she shouts that she doesn’t want to go.
When she is taken to another room, her cries can be heard in the hallway of the hospital.
“It’s terrible,” said Dr Halyna Hachkevic, head of the trauma department at St. Nicholas Children’s Hospital in Lviv.
“See people’s grief.”
Chernichenko shares a room with a girl who was trying to flee Kramatorsk on April 8 alongside her mother when a missile hit, killing at least 59 people.
The young girl was injured in the explosion, while her mother was killed.
Hachkevic says his team sees about 12 pediatric patients from the war zone each week. The youngest they saw is only nine months old.
In Lviv, foreign doctors from the United States and Italy have arrived to help perform surgeries, but in communities along the front line, doctors and people without medical training are struggling to provide medical assistance. care while their hospital buildings are under attack.
The beleaguered hospital
Before the war, 35-year-old Kostiantyn Sokolov worked at the Azovstal steelworks where he helped manage the supply of materials, but on February 24, as Russian forces invaded the country, he moved into a maternity ward in Mariupol where his mother works. like a doctor.
He spent nearly two months there before he and his parents were forced to flee.
The hospital has been attacked several times. Sokolov, who has no medical background, worked to get diesel for generators, carried people on stretchers and held up lights so doctors could perform surgeries and deliver babies.
When another Mariupol maternity hospital was bombed on March 9, Sokolov said a wave of patients arrived and needed help.
He and his parents wanted to stay in Mariupol as long as they could but were warned by Russian forces, who now control the port city, that they had to leave.
“The tactical team told us to evacuate, otherwise we would be executed,” he told CBC as he was parked in a long line for gas in Lviv, where he had arrived there. a week ago.
When they left Mariupol on April 19, he says their car came under fire.
“Thank goodness they don’t have a very well-directed sniper,” he joked.
They passed through a series of Russian-controlled checkpoints and a so-called filter camp where his phone was searched and he was questioned about whether he had any ties to the Ukrainian military or security services from the country.
He stayed there for around four hours, which he says is considerably less than most men his age, as he was traveling with his mother who was a doctor.
Once his parents are settled, he hopes to return to eastern Ukraine, where he says he will join the fight.
At the hospital in Lviv, Chernichenko does not know what awaits him.
Although she is able to walk a short distance on crutches, it will take days or even weeks to get out of hospital and she knows it will be too dangerous to return to her village of Donetsk.
Her best option now, she says, is to contact a nurse she met on the train to Lviv, who gave Chernichenko a number and offered to help take care of her when she gets out. of the hospital.
“War is the worst thing that can happen in this life,” she said.
“It makes no sense to me to blame anyone. You can only blame one person and that’s [Russia’s] President.”