I spent several hours in one of the field hospitals in the very center of Maidan. I spoke to several nurses there, but mainly Iryna Zakharchenko and Olga Azzuz. They pointed out the nurse who was treating the first victim of the protests, the Armenian boy who died on January 22nd 2014. The hospital had paper signs showing which room was used for what, and the furniture was rearranged to transform this office building into a hospital.
Another nurse told me that volunteers began coming in from all over Ukraine, including regions such as Kievska Oblast and Poltava. During the most violent days they had an inflow of 100 – 120 patients a day. The doctors and nurses are still there now, and they come for free, “We have enough, we don’t need money,” one of the nurses told me. They all come because they want to, not because they were asked to. They take turns working, but some of them like Zakharchenko, the coordinator, work up to 15 hours a day 7 days a week. She was very hesitant to speak with me, because she isn’t doing this to get any attention from the media.
She told me that when it started they set up several different rooms for different purposes; therapy, surgery, psychology and dentistry. Humanitarian help brought in some medicine for them to use. During February 18th – 20th there were 100+ patients a day, 90% of the protesters came with bronchitis from breathing in so many dangerous fumes from the gas weapons. Some of them still have health problems as an after-effect of the gas. While Zakharchenko was telling me about this another nurse brought me a ‘souvenir’, I expected a flag or a badge, I was handed a gas mask.
The doctors and nurses at the hospital would help everyone who came in injured, protestors as well as guests to Maidan. “What about Berkut?” I asked, and a dark expression came over her face. “We would help everyone, Berkut too… but usually as a trade for them letting someone go,” she said, but pointed out that this was before February 18th when the most people lost their lives. On February 25th Berkut was disbanded.
She told me that Polish and Czech doctors came to help at the hospitals. Later, Azzuz took me to one of the other hospitals where the doctors from People in Need were stationed. Right now there are Ukrainian doctors from the Rod Cross as well as other foreign doctors who are being sent to Crimea in anticipation of violence. Although things are a lot quieter now in Kiev, Zakharchenko still works at the hospital for a lot more than the legal 8 hours a day, and she comes every single day.
“My soul called me to work here” she said. In the beginning they weren’t allowed to come to Maidan during work, so she would come after and brought food and clothes. When the fighting broke out – Kiev was closed – all over the internet people were saying that it was going to be stormed by Berkut. She wanted to stop people from getting hurt, so she came at 3PM and was trying to get women to leave, but they wouldn’t budge. There were 20,000 people there all from Kiev since no one else could enter and half of them were women. When the Berkut was supposed to come, Tyhnybok, a deputy from the Supreme Council came. He asked Berkut, “Will you really storm these women? What if your mother, sister or wife is here?” She stayed there until 8PM that night, and the Berkut did end up storming Maidan, and people were shot.
Once the shooting began, they set up the hospital. She brought her 19 year old son with her many times, because he would tell her, “If you don’t take me with you, I’ll come on my own.” They were very busy, people needed x-rays and surgery, and they needed all the help they could get. She wasn’t the only one who came with her son; many would come with their families, many students worked there all night.
Everyone would give first aid, but many of the injured needed more serious care. They didn’t have a fancy clinic for surgeries and they couldn’t create a perfectly sterile environment. But they had to preform surgeries, there was no other way, people had to be saved.
Her mother didn’t know that she was coordinating and working at this hospital. At one point reporters came to interview the doctos and got her on camera. This was shown on the news and the next day her mom called, demanding to know what she is doing and to know that she is safe. Everyone was scared.
The protesters were treated very roughly at Maidan. She found a boy sitting in a strange way with his hands bandaged up, she asked him if he was okay and he insisted that he was. She convinced him to come into the hospital; he had a really high fever. She gave him an IV and only then did he admit that he was in jail, beaten brutally, “they jumped on me, humiliated me, hurt me in every way they could,” he told her. He was only 18; he didn’t want his parents to know so they wouldn’t worry about him.