Interview with the founder of the first volunteer mobile hospital In Ukraine

Nova Ukraine had an opportunity to sit down for a brief interview with Hennadij Druzenko, the founder of the first volunteer mobile hospital In Ukraine (FVMH). Here’s what he shared with us.

How and when the first volunteer mobile hospital (FVMH), which is named after Mykola Pirohov [a prominent surgeon, anatomist, scientist, humanist, and teacher, who lived in 1810-1881], was created?

FVMH was born from the spontaneous initiatives of the medical people at Maidan protest. In fact, FVMH was created in December 2013 after some students were beaten at Maidan. I appealed to the medical society with the call for action, “Now is the time when we are needed.” The first “baptism” happened on December 1, 2013, at Bankova Street, when the improvised medical brigades were rescuing the wounded protesters.

Then there were underground public hospitals. In particular, one on the premises of a publishing house “Nash [Our] Format” located in Podil district in Kyiv, has helped 150 wounded Maidan participants. Later, there was medical training at the time of war in Donbas. But, in general, FVMH — under this name and with this purpose — was formed as a response to the events that occurred in Ilovaisk in the fall of 2014. The idea was to prevent the unacceptable number of deaths from non-lethal wounds that we saw in Ilovaisk.

Who works at FVMH?

We have a small permanent staff: the executive director, the deputies, the car fleet staff, accountants, HR, etc. But 90% of our hospital’s staff consists of doctors who are volunteers who come to us on a monthly rotation and then return to their jobs. It allows them to continue earning a living, but at the same time to also fulfill an important mission.

From the beginning of the FVMH’s existence, almost 800 volunteer doctors were engaged — from paramedic drivers to the chief doctors of hospitals and heads of departments of medical universities. And since the full-scale invasion by Russia, we’ve had a rotation of 300 volunteer doctors to date.

What is the hospital’s geographical focus? (Which frontlines of which regions?) And to whom you are providing your assistance?

We work, in fact, in the whole area where there’s active combat. We started in the Kyiv and Zhytomyr regions. In May we moved to the East, where active fighting was happening, and from that time we had been working in the Donbas area. In particular, the two main bases are operating in Bakhmut and Sloviansk. Also, our doctors are based in Lyman, Zarichne, Kam’ianka, and the Mykolaiv region. During the time of its operation, FVMH has worked in 50 locations in active combat zones.

If possible, could you please tell us how many people have been helped by your hospital?

Before the full-scale invasion, we helped 56,000 patients, from very tough to easy cases. At the time of our Kyiv region activity, we weren’t keeping track, but the amount could be counted in thousands because we were transporting many heavily wounded from Irpin and Bucha. And, beginning in May, we’ve helped 4,000 wounded people in Donbas and approximately 1,000 in the Zhytomyr region. Thousands of lives were saved. 

What obstacles is your team facing?

Unlike most units of the Defense Forces, we are actually 90% equipped by the basic means. We have a large fleet of ambulances, which have modern equipment, we have safeguards, and communication equipment. Our biggest expenses are operational – it’s the logistics, the repair workshop, the financial department, and communication specialists.

On average, the operation of our hospital costs us $50,000 per month: it goes to the vehicle repair, fuel expenses, heating and special food supply for our doctors who are out on a mission, and the salaries of the official staff employees of the organization. Another challenge is the recruitment of the volunteer doctors. Unfortunately, the number of doctors who can leave their regular work and keep getting paid is getting lower (the current legislation, unfortunately, is not perfect in this area), and there could be certain problems with it [recruitment] in the future. 

What helps you and your colleagues continue this emotionally and physically hard work?

Our work is indeed really hard emotionally and is physically exhausting. We worked non-stop from February 26, so there is the burnout effect. But the response is simple — it is life itself and the incredible people around us. When I ask why the doctors keep returning to FVMH even though we do not pay them anything, and there are no social benefits whatsoever, they say that there is no other place where they can feel more human and so much needed. And also, it gives them the feeling of an extremely close family, where everyone supports each other and lends their shoulder.

Why it is Important to continue to support FVMH?

The response is very simple — because we save lives. We are different from Russia, because we value and fight for the life of every defender — and it is exactly what FVMH does. More than that, we do it very competently as we set the standards of tactical medicine on the battlefield due to better training, equipment and motivation.

Also, there is another response, which is deeper and more strategic. Any war concentrates the resources and competence in the hands of the state and it is very precarious because we may defeat Russia and then become Little Russia. Eventually, Putin built the legitimacy of his power based on the victory in the Chechen war. Therefore, it is very important that, along with the state’s power and the power of the defense forces, these islands of a successful civil society exist, and don’t allow the state to monopolize the whole space. It is necessary to remember that we are fighting not only for territorial integrity, but also for fundamental values — such as freedom, humanity and democracy — the ones which Russia does not have, by the way. And without the balance between the state and civil society, of which the FVMH is the representative, it would be just impossible.

That is why it is hugely important, especially during the war, when the power is concentrated in certain hands and when the censorship and discipline are being strengthened, to save and support such entities, which are not vertically structured, but are the manifestation of the civil society’s self-organization.

If you would like to volunteer for FVMH, please fill out this form.

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