“Mariupol hell”: A piercing story of 24-year-old ambulance doctor from the blockaded city
Serhii Chornobryvets calls the 22-day period he worked as a doctor in the wartime Mariupol — “Mariupol hell”. He says those who were there will never be the same, and dreams of Mariupol to be finally recaptured. We publish a piercing story of a young doctor prepared by “Zaborona” from the first person as it is.
I come from Dnipro city. I graduated from Berdiansk Medical College as a paramedic and later entered Donetsk Medical University, where I still study. However, now no one understands when it will be possible to fully return to education.
I have been working in an ambulance since 2019. Before that, I worked in many hospitals, but I was always bored there. And work in the ambulance is moving, you get all the most interesting cases.
On February 24, 2022, I didn’t have a shift. But in the morning I heard that the war had started and I went to the ambulance myself. I thought that the guys would need help. I came to my superiors and said that I would work for a day. They agreed.
In the first days there was nothing special. I didn’t even withdraw money, I didn’t buy tons of potatoes. It seemed to me that everything would be fine, that there was nothing to worry about.
I worked one day, then another. I approached my superiors and asked if I could stay — they allowed me to. After the third day I was told to go home to rest. I refused. It just got hot.
FIRST TOUGH CASE
The left bank of the city was the first to suffer. I was sent to pick up women from the maternity hospital and transport them to another maternity hospital in the center. Everyone was leaving the area at that time, and we were going there. I was in the bulletproof vest and a helmet. I thought it was necessary to transport one woman in labor, but the nurse told me that there were eight of them. Grad multiple rocket launcher had been already working, and I was thinking: “I hope they will not start giving birth here”. I asked them, “Girls, what are your weeks?” They said: fortieth, thirty-eighth. I thought: “F*ck…” But we got to the hospital quickly, we managed to.
We had never lost a spirit within our team. We used to start our days with jokes about the Russian military ship. It was difficult because there was no water, no electricity, no food, no communication. We slept for 2-4 hours, and only when we had time. 10 people lived in our small room. Nobody went home, everyone lived at our station.
2-3% OF PEOPLE WERE DYING AT OUR STAGE
The hardest time has began on March 1, when Kirov Square was shelled. We were sitting at the station and didn’t know anything: we saw smoke, we heard an explosion and thought there was a fire. Then a truck carrying water arrived. We thought that water was brought to us because we ran out of it. But the back door opened in front of us, and there were just six wounded people in a pile on top of each other. They had blood, open craniocerebral injuries, open fractures, everyone was moaning, crying, screaming. It was a terrible picture, we were even stunned for a couple of seconds — standing and looking at the wounded.
Then we quickly started working, unloaded the wounded from the car. As soon as they were taken out, we immediately injected them with painkillers and stopped the bleeding. In 6-7 minutes those people were all in our cars and we took them to the hospital. All of them survived.
In those days we did not count how many people we saved. We tried to transfer everyone from a critical condition to a serious one to the hospital, but we didn’t know the future of most of them. At our stage, 2-3% of people were dying.
I had a case when I was severely stung. A civilian car arrives, a 45-year-old man comes out and says that he has wounded people in the car. He opens the car, and there are two boys aged 16. One is conscious, eyes wide, looking at me. The second is unconscious, his eyes are open, and his legs are rags. Not just amputated, but hanging in pieces.
I understood that he wouldn’t live with such injuries, because you couldn’t even put a tourniquet there. But I still began to resuscitate him. I was resuscitating him and shouted that I needed help to carry him. But a doctor approached me and said that boy wouldn’t live with such injuries, so I needed to calm down. I said that I would continue. When I finally became conscious again, I thought that if you focused on those whom you were sorry for, you would not be able to save those who could still be saved.
On the thirteenth day, heavy bombardment of the city began: on the left bank, in the city center and all over the city. Our team was very worried about security. When the emergency calls were coming, we were asked who was ready to go. I was always going to every call.
It was important for me to stay human and help because I knew: if I needed help, they would help me.
On March 15, 2022, me and 65-year-old Volodia were driving down the small street, and about 30 meters from us a shell hit a house and exploded. The windows in our car were open, so we were stunned by the sound wave. I remember yelling at the driver: “Volodia, come back,” and he replied we had no way back.
We broke through the bombing, drove to a safe distance. Volodia asked me if we continue moving to a call: “Well, look, I’m 65 years old, I’ve outlived my life. And you’re young, so decide.” I decided we had to go. That day we actually pulled people out of the bombing zone and took them to the hospital safely.
THE ROAD OUT WAS A HELL
In a few days my friends and I, who worked together, decided that we should leave Mariupol. There was no point in staying: we weren’t able anymore to go to the rescue, and sitting and waiting for the shell to hit us was stupid. We decided that it would be better to help in another place, for example, in Zaporizhzhia.
Six of us left the city wearing our uniform in a single car of my friend. It was too dangerous to drive in an ambulance — it would be a red rag for [ed. — Russian soldiers] to fall on.
We’ve been driving to Berdiansk for 12 hours, from Berdiansk to Zaporizhzhia — 13 [in peacetime the road from Mariupol to Zaporizhzhia takes about four hours]. The road was a hell, it exhausts you completely.
Once on our road we were forced to undress at night in sub-zero temperatures on the street — Russians were looking for Nazi tattoos. They searched our phones, looked at our photos. They had trained people there who look at recently deleted photos on iPhones. We knew where we were going, so we deleted everything — even in the messengers. So nothing was found.
I remember the first time a man stopped us and said in Ukrainian, “Come on, hurry up, hurry up, guys!” That’s when we realized that we had finally reached the territory controlled by Ukraine.
Now I work for an ambulance station in Zaporizhzhia.
Mariupol is my home, I want to go back there. I really want it to be rebuilt. But most of all, I want the people who are still there to get out. I have some guilt inside. They write to me that we are heroes, and I think: what kind of heroes we are if we left? But on the other hand, I understand that our team fought for every life. We did it under fire. I want at least one of our people to be awarded, because this is really a feat.