She left for Donbas in the first hours of volunteer battalions’ mobilization. She had no fear in the face of the enemy or in the face of mistakes. About life before the war, women at the frontline, the daughter and readiness to go to the end – the way commander of Hospitaliyery battalion Yana Zinkevych herself sees it in the section “Who is” on Opinion.
About life before the war
Long before the beginning of Russian aggression, as a child, Yana was sure that she would become a doctor. At the same time, recalling her childhood, the woman admits: it turns out that all these teenage hobbies and skills had prepared her for war.
“I was preparing for medical school quite seriously. Although, when I think of my hobbies, I think that all my skills acquired in childhood and adolescence were needed during the war – as if I was preparing for it. I enjoyed hiking in the mountains. Often, I was doing it on my own. I just went to Yaremche and then I walked further, I love to be alone sometimes. I do not need a company. I was doing orienteering professionally. I participated in domestic championships. The first year after school I couldn’t enter a university. They offered me to pay a bribe. I refused. First of all, I knew that I would enter on my own, and it was a matter of principle. Secondly, I couldn’t afford it. Mom brought me up alone, we had no wealth. I postponed my studies for the next year. In a time being, I was preparing and doing side jobs.”
Then the Maidan had started, the Right sector began training people in the regions and further mobilization went on. Zinkevych entered the local branch.
“Sometimes we were going to Maidan to help, then came back. They were preparing us for defense, brought us to the woods where we learned to do everything that was needed. We stayed in the forest dug trenches, learned how to be on a watch, defend ourselves, jump with a parachute… These drills really gave me a lot. Everyone did what was needed. We’ve learned a lot and completed a plethora of additional tasks.
A few weeks after Yanukovych’s escape, Russian aggression has begun – the annexation of the Crimea, the creation of volunteer battalions. In Dnipropetrovsk region, the first base of the Right Sector was created, people from all over Ukraine gathered there. I went to Donbas with the first group – in 3 hours after the announcement of mobilization in the region. There were 60 of us. At first, there were only I and Olena Bilozerska among women.
Since I had the minimal qualification, I started to form first-aid kits from stuff that was brought by indifferent ones. I’ve started to teach people how to provide first aid to themselves and their brothers in arms. I had to fill my knowledge gap with books and videos. Everything was within the limits of possibilities. During one of the first battles – for Karlivka, I was carrying a wounded person for a few kilometers, so we returned only when all the others were on the move. It was the beginning of July.
Everything was very chaotic. It was the beginning of the war, so the situation was quite serious – there were injured and deceased. After this battle, the commander called me, handed me his award knife and blessed me to work further, making me the head of Volunteer Ukrainian Corps’ medical service.“
About a possible captivity
In one of her interviews, Yana says that there was a possibility of such a thing.
“We were in Stepanivka, and the wounded were taken to Amvrosiyevka. Then suddenly, we ran out of medical supplies, so we went to the nearest town. We calmly drove to the checkpoint, and there were separatists. It’s good that a few days ago, our flag was torn off from the vehicle. We began proving them that we are good guys, that is – their own medical service. The entire car is covered in blood, mattresses in blood. In general, we pretended of being silly ones, somehow the miracle had happened and they let us in.
No doubts I would blow myself up, I know it. This way, I would take more enemies with me. I always had a grenade in my pocket. Volunteers mustn’t be captured, especially women.”
About lack of fear and readiness to die
While speaking to journalists, Yana admits: really there was no fear, there was only a long-lasting incomprehension, when, for a certain period of time, everyone thought that everything would end soon and victory will approach.
“However, after the Donetsk Airport and Debaltsevo, it became clear that this is not for one year and will be here for a long time. So people were making their own choices back then: either to stay till the end, or to make a contribution for some time, or to go back to civilian life, or enter the Armed Forces or the National Guard. Because all of it was voluntary, for free.
Volunteers don’t receive wages. And sooner or later you have to think about the material problems of your own family, so many people had to go.”
When the volunteer herself faced this choice, she decided to stay until she was useful and had enough strength, health, and opportunities.
“I knew that I could be 25-30 years old when it all ends. I also prepared myself morally for different situations and scenarios. I understood that I could die, be injured or seriously ill. I understood that the most undesirable scenario is to become dependent on outside help.
The first undesirable option is a brain injury. The second undesirable option is a wound in the spine. And the last, the third one was death, because it is not so scary to die, sometimes it is scarier to live. I got the second one from all the least desirable.”
About the accident, trauma, and daughter
Yana’s injury was received as a result of an accident. The woman recalls that she was returning with her ex-husband to the base, fell asleep, and woke up after an accident.
“For a second I was frightened but immediately, there was a blow and the car rolled over. After that, I only remember a small gap when I realized that I had a spine injury. I said whom they should call, warned not to roll the car back, not to move me, and to cover me. Call the ambulance – and that’s it. Then I blacked off. I managed to feel pain, went into a coma. I regained senses only in the hospital. To be honest, the odds were almost less than zero, the injury was really difficult, and, as they told me later, I shouldn’t have survived.
Many people were into it, I was in the spotlight. My friends paid for the operation in Israel, where I was transported in ten days. Then, a ten-hour operation, a coma, a difficult month of new hard and painful life. But there was no miracle, I realized that I can’t walk (and that’s just one of the consequences) and recover completely, realized that a pricy and long-lasting operation would be needed.”
In the spring, Yana found out that she was pregnant. Despite the recent injury and persuasion of doctors, the volunteer did not abandon the child, because she understood: she had survived because of this.
“I understood that I wouldn’t be able to abandon the child. Over time, I found a very good doctor, she accompanied my pregnancy and made operation. I was into it completely, because with my pregnancy I finally found the reason – why I’ve survived the accident, what should I do, and why this happened – I had to give birth to this baby. At that moment, I sincerely believed that I had survived for the sake of this, and this is one of the most important things that I still have to do. I called my daughter Bohdana because she really was given by God (Ukrainian literal translation of this name is given by the God – translator’s note)”.
About working with veterans and post-traumatic syndrome
Yana emphasizes that we have enough psychologists, we even had enough of them prior to the war. However, they need to be trained to the level that they can work with veterans.
“That is, we have very few veterans who went through the war and became psychologists because they need time to study. It lasts for several years. There some military psychologists, but this is not enough, because they work, either as volunteers, and exhaust themselves, or they go to crisis centers. Still, it covers a very small percentage. We need to make a high-quality state program for the rehabilitation of the veterans. Because usually, the main peak of suicides happens not on the first and second year, but on the tenth. If the first veterans came back in 2014, then the peak of suicides will catch up with us somewhere in 2024.
Speaking about what we can have in the future, the situation may even be worse. After the Vietnam War, the Americans had nearly 50,000 deceased, but over the next ten years, 60,000 veterans died due to illness, suicide, effects of alcoholism, drug abuse, fights, and the like. As you see, much more had perished than during the war itself. Unfortunately, we already have such a sad opportunity to beat this statistic.“
About women at the war
Answering the journalist’s question whether it is much more difficult for women than men during a war, Zinkevych emphasizes: in fact, all problems can be solved if you have normal leadership.
“We lived together. Wet wipes are everything for us. Both for women and men. I even made myself a very short haircut, in order not to bother myself with washing a head.
If we talk about the features of the female body, then there is a lot of modern ways to solve any hygiene issues. Female scouts or snipers just don’t go on a mission during certain days.”
By Dmytro Zhuravel
The publication was collected from numerous interviews, speeches, and appeals of the material’s protagonist.