France has evacuated all of its citizens from Ukraine now that Russia has invaded but some healthcare providers and volunteer soldiers are heading towards the conflict.
Several of these brave men and women spoke about their decision to take up arms and work as military medics, despite the risk of joining the resistance to the Russian invasion.
A man who calls himself Aurélien, even though that’s not his real name, says he is going to Ukraine because he believes he can be of service to the Ukrainian people.
“I really don’t know what awaits me. I’ve never experienced a real war,” he said. “I want to go there for obvious reasons. For freedom and peace. What’s happening now in 2022 goes against all progress. Kyiv must hold out, and they need us. We hope to arrive in time to support the resistance.”
He plans to leave his home in Northern France this week along with another volunteer and drive to Poland. As a former soldier in the French army, Aurélien knows how to use a firearm, but he said, “it’s my years of working in a hospital emergency services department that will be helpful.”
Aurélien worked as a hospital porter where he honed his first aid skills and was responsible for safely transporting patients and medical equipment within the hospital. “Still, I think we have to be ready for anything.”
The 30-year-old doesn’t have any contacts on the ground in Ukraine and will be leaving France without any military equipment.
“First, we want to meet with the Ukrainian resistance, and I think the rest will follow.”
An International Legion
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday that the country is working on creating an “international legion” of foreign military volunteers that have agreed to fight on behalf of Ukraine and that they are working on creating something similar for foreign medical providers.
“Why not?” Aurélien said, when asked if he plans to join. “I’ve emailed the Ukrainian embassy in Paris to let them know I’d like to volunteer.”
However, Aurélien said it’s been impossible to go through the official French embassy at the moment, so he plans on just showing up in person even though he doesn’t have a passport. He hopes his French ID card will work instead. “The only option is to go in person,” he said.
Dr Arsène Sabanieev, a Franco-Ukrainian doctor with an intensive care unit in Lille, has put together a Facebook page where medical volunteers from all over the world can sign up to help in the fight against Russia, but there’s no guarantee that someone will be there to greet these providers when they arrive in Ukraine or neighboring Poland.
“I’ve told those who want to go that they will not have any insurance, that they’ll be going in a personal capacity only, the [French] embassy won’t be behind them. If someone gets shot, they’ll be on their own. It’s very risky,” said Sabanieev.
Sabanieev was born in Kyiv and moved to France when he was just ten years old. He is now getting ready to return to his home country.
“I’ve been a Ukrainian patriot since I was 15. Becoming a doctor was my way of helping my country. But I could never have known that we would find ourselves in this situation.”
One of his friends lent him his van, which is now full of medical supplies and equipment. Sabanieev says his wife doesn’t want him to go, but she “understands.”
“It’s battlefield medicine, and I’m not trained for that. But I’ve done some emergency services work, I know first aid. I can use a firearm, but I’m going there as a doctor. I help by saving lives.”
Valerie, an intensive-care nurse who’s done humanitarian work overseas, was considering traveling to Ukraine as a medical volunteer, but she changed her mind when she learned that she would be going without any insurance or official support from her government.
“[French Foreign Minister] Jean-Yves Le Drian is trying to get all the French people inside Ukraine out,” she said. “I’ve spoken to the humanitarian associations I’ve worked with in the past – not a single one is going to Ukraine. There’s a reason for that: it’s a war zone and it’s extremely dangerous. Tragedies will be added to the Ukrainian tragedies already taking place.”
Instead of risking her life on the battlefield, Valerie is collecting supplies at the hospital where she works and will send them to Ukraine through a liaison on the ground.
“I would have liked to go on a convoy transporting medicine. I think I could be useful. But having at least some structure is crucial. You can’t go on your own, with your eyes closed.”
Hopefully, these brave providers make it home safe and sound.