A group of Edmonton firefighters is back home after providing combat first aid training to emergency responders in Ukraine.
The team from Firefighter Aid Ukraine, an Edmonton organization that has been distributing PPE and other equipment in Ukraine for years, visited Kolomyia in western Ukraine from Jan. 25 to Feb. 2 to teach roughly 80 doctors, paramedics and other first responders how to treat massive hemorrhages, serious internal injuries and obstructed airways — common injuries of war.
“Combat medicine really focuses on what we call the potentially preventable causes of death on the battlefield. It’s a very focused and aggressive treatment towards those specific injuries, and it differs quite a bit from how I would do a paramedical assessment in Canada,” said firefighter Nelson Bate.
Bate, who served two tours in Afghanistan with the Canadian military before becoming a firefighter in 2014, was a medical instructor for the Edmonton Fire Department. He jumped at the opportunity to go to Ukraine.
“It’s quite challenging sometimes for someone who has been in the military to sit back and watch these conflicts happening overseas — feeling helpless,” he said. “When I was asked if I would like to participate, I felt quite honoured and privileged to be able to.”
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While Bate has led first aid training before in Canada, this trip was different.
“It felt very purposeful. It’s quite a bit different than teaching a CPR course or a first aid course in Canada where someone may or may not use those skills,” he said.
“In Ukraine, we knew that the people that we were teaching will likely be using these skills, unfortunately, in the near future.”
Anatoli Morgotch served as translator on the trip. He moved to Theodore, Sask., from Ukraine in 1995, when he was 14. He moved to Edmonton in 2008 and has been with the city’s fire department ever since.
Morgotch had not been back to Ukraine since 2002 and said that it was surreal to be back in his homeland, which is now an active war zone.
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“It was a very good, but then humbling experience going [back] to the place where I was born,” he said.
“It is unbelievable. The hardest part for me was definitely watching children interact every day, living their lives, knowing that [in] the rest of the world, children have warm beds, a warm school to go to — and children in Ukraine, they [don’] have these opportunities.”
Morgotch said his goal was to ensure that nothing got lost in translation for the participants.
“It was very humbling to learn how much they appreciated this [training] and how much they are learning about the methods that are utilized in North America,” he said.
And while he was helping to teach the students, Morgotch said he himself learned something from the whole experience.
“I learned kindness. I’ve learned humanity. I’ve learned how, during the hardest times, the last thing that they were thinking about [was] themselves — they were thinking about each other,” he said.
Training took place around anniversary of invasion
Kevin Royle, founder of Firefighter Aid Ukraine, said the organization has been delivering life-saving supplies and equipment to first responders and hospitals in Ukraine, and other countries, for about nine years.
The group has been helping those on the ground since the annexation of Crimea since 2014 and had been planning to teach combat first aid training for some time, but the pandemic and then the Russian invasion pushed it back.
The trip happened as Ukraine marks the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion; it continues to be pummelled with rocket and shelling attacks.
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“The indirect fire in the shelling from the invading Russian forces has just created this huge demand for people with the skills and the ability to use these skills in medical interventions, to stabilize patients and to increase the odds of a positive outcome and prevent death,” Royle said.
According to Royle, the trip, including the equipment and flights, cost between $25,000 and $30,000 — a cost raised by the organization through donations.
Firefighter Aid Ukraine plans to hold more first aid training sessions, though no dates have been set.
“I hope that it shows the rest of the world that we’re still thinking of Ukraine and Ukraine still needs our help,” Royle said.
CBC News in Ukraine: This week, join The National hosted by CBC’s chief correspondent, Adrienne Arsenault, in Kyiv. Watch at 9 p.m. ET on CBC News Network, 10 p.m. on CBC TV, and streaming on CBC Gem and CBC News Explore.