LVIV, Ukraine (OSV News) – Orysya Masna wondered why she had undergone first aid training.
The 21-year-old social work student, who is now entering her final year at Ukraine’s Catholic University in Lviv, told OSV News that she took fall 2021 classes led by a military paramedic and asked, “Why am I studying this?”
She received a response in February 2022, when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, following the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and fomenting separatist activity in Ukraine’s provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk.
“My roommates were in shock and started crying,” said Masna, a Catholic from Ukraine. “But I immediately wanted to take the university course in emergency medicine. We needed it now.
Over the next four days, 600 people from the university completed the training, she said.
“We learned what to do if a rocket flew into your room and you lost a leg, or someone stopped breathing – first aid even before the ambulance arrived,” Masna said.
She then enrolled in a further training program: that of the Hospitallers, a volunteer organization of paramedics founded by Yana Zinkevich at the start of Russian hostilities in 2014. Since then, the group — which includes some 360 paramedics working in more than 50 crews – evacuated more than 11,000 wounded soldiers.
After completing the Hospitalier course, Masna put his skills to work.
“I was deployed to the front line at the end of May 2022,” Masna said. “I went to Donetsk Oblast and my first rotation was in a village called Komar.”
The town, whose name means “mosquito” in Ukrainian, proved to be “an easy rotation” from its next assignment: Bakhmut and Soledar, where some of the fiercest battles of the war were fought.
“At first, my family didn’t know,” admitted Masna. “They thought I was in Kyiv delivering medical supplies. Then my mom heard gunshots (during our calls), and I said, “Oh, don’t worry, I’m at the military base and they’re training.”
When her mother offered to visit her, Masna was forced to reveal her true location.
“She would kneel down and ask me not to go, then she said, ‘I’m going with you,'” Masna said. “And I was like, ‘You can’t go.'”
Traveling with her team – a driver and a fellow paramedic – Masna then traveled to cities such as Novosilka, Adiivka and New York, where only a year before the invasion she had toured with a student theater troupe. .
“The university was performing a traditional Ukrainian Christmas play and we went to see the soldiers there,” she recalls. “Everything had been destroyed, including the schools. It was really, really painful to see, because every place I had been to was in ruins.
During the month-long rotations, which are followed by two to four weeks off, Masna and his team strive to get injured soldiers to safety as quickly as possible for life-saving treatment.
“One person is driving, and we’re trying to get everyone in the car – lots and lots of wounded soldiers,” she said. “We drive and process simultaneously, trying to get them out of harm’s way.”
Thanks to her individualized study program, Masna is able to balance her classes and rotations – although she has been known to study on the battlefield during lulls in combat.
“I took an online English course. The professor was pushing me to attend the lecture, and I said, ‘Oh, I’m at war now,'” she said. “But he insisted.”
A former patient managed to track her down and bring her flowers, she said.
At the height of the fights, “the most important thing is not just to do the medicine, which comes automatically, but to be able to collect your thoughts and concentrate in these stressful situations,” she said. “Right now you’re treating someone and you’re really focused; you know what to do.”
She and her team once tried to relax briefly with an evening swim in a river – until the sky was filled with “stars falling all around”, she said. “They were phosphorus bombs.”
The dogs and cats, left without owners because of the war, become team mascots and therapy animals while she’s in the field, she said.
Off rotation, she heads to the Carpathian Mountains to reconnect with the beauty of nature, and the support of close friends helps her keep her feet on the ground, she said.
But once rested, Masra returns to the fight, confident in God’s protection.
“God is with us in our car, and therefore our team is the strongest,” she said. “There were many times when we could die. There were many times when we can testify that we could have died, but something happened – the car wouldn’t drive, or there was swamp and we had to go around, and we missed the bomb.
“I have a short prayer to say,” Masra said. “If I die now, God, please forgive me of all my sins, and let’s go.”
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