When 15-year-old Liza Chernichenko hit the gas while driving frantically through the Donetsk region, she realized she had been shot in both legs, but with four others in the car, including two men bleeding profusely, she kept driving, even as Russian forces continued to fire
“There was no fear, there was no shock,” said Chernichenko, who spoke to CBC from his hospital bed in Lviv.
“There was a determination to keep going.”
Chernichenko, who had planned to go into hiding with her godmother and try to wait out the relentless shelling near her Komyshuvakha community, ended up on the run after two men were injured in an attack and needed someone to take them to hospital.
His dramatic escape on May 1 came as Russian forces intensified their assault on Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, where they aim to seize more of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as gain full control of Mariupol, where a number remain. unspecified number of Ukrainian fighters. the Azovstal steel plant.
On Saturday, Ukrainian officials confirmed that all women, children and the elderly had been evacuated from the sprawling Soviet-era steel plant, while other residents of besieged areas in eastern Ukraine continue to make harrowing journeys west out of the immediate war zone.
Chernichenko told CBC that after hearing the shelling, he cycled from his home to where two wounded men with shrapnel wounds lay.
In the commotion that followed, he decided that the men should go to the hospital in Bakhmut, a community an hour away. One of the wounded men had a car that could take them there, but due to fierce fighting nearby, no one wanted to drive.
Then Chernichenko took the wheel.
The two injured got into the car along with one of their wives and another man who offered to help them navigate.
Drive to avoid mines
She says that as she was leaving the village, they passed under a bridge and she saw mines a few hundred meters in front of her, sitting like “chess pieces” that she had to get through.
Further down the road, a post snapped in two, and next to one of the halves, a woman’s body lay.
Chernichenko, who already knew how to drive, says that as they turned a corner, she and her passengers were suddenly attacked by Russian forces.
She was hit and so was the car. Her engine stalled briefly before restarting.
With her legs bleeding and pain radiating through her feet, she was relieved when, 20 minutes into the journey, they were met by Ukrainian troops who took control and rushed everyone to hospital.
Chernichenko had taken at least four bullets and had his left toe blown off.
As she retells the story from her hospital bed, she feels confident and speaks confidently about how she had no choice but to act.
At 15, he projects the image of someone who has been taking care of himself for years.
But when a doctor arrives to tell her she needs her bandages changed, she screams that she doesn’t want to go.
As she is taken to a different room, her screams can be heard across the hospital hallway.
“It’s terrible,” said Dr. Halyna Hachkevich, head of the trauma department at St. Nicolas Children’s Hospital in Lviv.
“See the pain of the people.”
Chernichenko shares a room with a girl who was trying to flee Kramatorsk on April 8 with her mother when a missile landed, killing at least 59 people.
The girl was injured in the explosion, while her mother was killed.
Hachkevich says his team receives about 12 pediatric patients from the war zone each week. The youngest they have seen is only nine months old.
In Lviv, foreign doctors from the United States and Italy have arrived to help perform surgeries, but in communities along the front line, doctors and people without medical training have been scrambling to provide care as hospital buildings their hospitals are attacked.
hospital under siege
Before the war, Kostiantyn Sokolov, 35, worked at the Azovstal steel plant, where he helped manage the supply of equipment, but on February 24, when Russian forces invaded the country, he moved to a maternity hospital. in Mariupol, where his mother works. as a doctor.
He spent almost two months there before he and his parents had to flee.
The hospital was attacked several times. Sokolov, who has no medical training, worked to get diesel for generators, carried people on stretchers and held up lights so doctors could perform surgeries and deliver babies.
When another maternity hospital in Mariupol was bombed on March 9, Sokolov said a wave of patients came who needed help.
He and his parents wanted to stay in Mariupol as long as they could, but were warned by Russian forces, who now control the port city, that they had to leave.
“The tactical team told us to evacuate or else we would be executed,” he told CBC while parked in a long line to buy gasoline in Lviv, where he had arrived a week ago.
As they left Mariupol on April 19, he says his car came under fire.
“Thank God, they don’t have a very sharp sniper,” he joked.
They passed through a series of Russian-controlled checkpoints and a so-called filter camp where they searched his phone and questioned him about whether he had any connection to the Ukrainian military or the country’s security services.
He was there for about four hours, which he says is considerably less than most men his age because he was traveling with his mother, who was a doctor.
Once her parents settle down, she hopes to return to eastern Ukraine, where she says she will join the fight.
In the hospital in Lviv, Chernichenko is not sure what awaits her.
Although he can walk a short distance on crutches, it will be days, if not weeks, before he is released from hospital and he knows it will be too dangerous to return to his village in Donetsk.
Her best option now, she says, is to contact a nurse she met on the train to Lviv, who gave Chernichenko a number and offered to help care for her when she is out of hospital.
“War is the worst thing that can happen in this life,” he said.
“It doesn’t make sense for me to blame anyone. You can only blame one person and that’s [Russia’s] President.”