Vadym Svyrydenko, 42, served as a medic in the Ukrainian Army.
I’m from Kyiv. I was born here, studied here and live here. After high school I studied to become a paramedic. However, over time I graduated with a degree in economics. I ended up following another path. I have always loved medicine. I never quit medicine. I studied massage. People came to me and I helped them as best I could. I worked for a newspaper for the last nine years doing promotion. I was pretty good at it.
I have a person I love. I was married once, but we divorced. We lived together for a long time – 12 years, but unfortunately, we didn't work out as a family. We didn't have any children. I met another woman, and that family broke up.
My fiancée has a daughter from her first marriage. She loves me very much. She is five years old. My fiancée is carrying my baby under her heart. We are getting married soon. I want to become the head of the family. I want to be a father. I love children. I want more children. I'm not allowed to guess, because twins are often born in my family. But I want at least three children. In a loving family kids are happiness. Children should be born in love and harmony. If children are born that way, they became true citizens who have a kind heart.
I adore Victoria, my fiancée. I simply adore her. And Violetta – my stepdaughter, I love her too. And she loves me. When she found out we're getting married, she started calling me dad. The kid jumped almost to the ceiling.
Victoria is such a Ukrainian girl. She will tear somebody’s throat out for the Ukrainian language. She speaks only Ukrainian. She is dark-haired, with huge eyes. It's very obvious that she is a zapadenka (someone from western Ukraine), although she hates this word.
What is most important in parenting?
Love. Love for other people and love for your country. The most important thing is to raise a true human being.
I'm a child of the Soviet Union. But yes, that's how we were raised. To love people around you, to love your classmate, to not offend girls, to help old ladies, to love your country and to defend it. Perhaps that is why I went to war.
I said that I would not join a volunteer battalion, but if they called me up, I'd go. During my compulsory military service I was a border guard. I'm also a medic. They called me and said: "Are you a border guard?" “I was once." "Are you a medic?" "Yes, I'm a medic." "We need you." "If my country needs me, then I'm going."
I didn't go to fight but to help because not only soldiers suffer, but also civilians and their families suffer. I never refused to help anyone. When shells hit residential houses, they came to me for first aid. I always helped, with medicine or advice. But I went only to do that. You don't just have to kill in war. You can also create something in war.
I was drafted on August 4 and sent to Mukachevo. On August 31 we went to the ATO. We immediately ended up in Shchastya, a small town.
Each base and each checkpoint with more than a hundred people must have a paramedic. So I was sent to that region. I was with them for a long time near Stanytsia Luhanska, and then another 50 days near Chornukhyno. Then there was a small vacation – 10 days. Afterward, we returned and we were sent, I think, to the Donetsk region to guard the mines, because they were being shelled.
One fine day, we were moved from there and sent to Debaltseve to help strengthen the area. We were there for a few days. After several days our checkpoint was given orders. We had a small checkpoint – 10 people and one APC, which was really stupid. We had to go aid another checkpoint because it was surrounded.
We leave and get ambushed. We get to a place in the road with lots of our destroyed military equipment. We focus on the center. Not far from me are two Grad missile launchers, and interestingly right in front of us is an enemy tank. It fires. I was wounded in the right arm and right thigh by fragments from this shell. We were a group of six troopers, two were wounded and needed to be evacuated. We were sent to Debaltsevo. The doctors there helped us and in the evening we were supposed to go to Artemivsk. There were eight wounded, some badly, some slightly. We were given four cars and a truck. The commander and I got in the last car because we had minor injuries. Those who were seriously injured were put in the truck on stretchers. We drove off. It was 8:30 pm when the chaos started.
The media was screaming that Debaltsevo wasn't surrounded, but at that moment we had been surrounded for six days. Not a single vehicle broke through the encirclement. The entire convoy was destroyed. Our APC was also blown up. A mine blew up right under me. It's such an unpleasant feeling when a bomb explodes under you. The smell of burnt metal. Good thing I was wearing a helmet. I was thrown around like a rag doll, but my commander saved me. He opened the door and pulled me out. I fell awkwardly. If we hadn't gotten out of there, we would have burned alive. There was confusion, noise and screaming. The guys didn't know what to do. It was decided that the survivors would go on foot and we would be transported in the truck to the nearest village controlled by our guys. But the area was all mined. We drove 5-7 meters and hit another mine. I will remember this escape forever. I was thrown so hard that after that mine I couldn't walk. I fell on someone's stretcher. One of the guys was lying there. I injured my pelvic bone and my spine.
The commander and I decided to wait until morning, but we didn't get lucky. At night the temperature dropped to 25 degrees below zero [-13 Fahrenheit]. We had to save ourselves. We couldn't walk, so we got into the truck and found sleeping bags. It took a huge effort. Every step was so painful. We covered ourselves somehow and sat back to back.
My commander was 23, a little guy. He graduated from vocational college. He's a contract soldier. He was in command of ten people. We were all adults – 30, 35, 40 years old, men who had completed compulsory military service and had life experience. We helped him and kept strict discipline. We stood there side by side. We had one goal and we had one direction. The young guys were losing it, but we calmed them down.
When we sat in the truck with the commander it was nighttime. The uninjured soldiers ran off with the promise that once they get to the next checkpoint, they would tell someone about us, so they would rescue us. But there was no help. And the struggle for survival began. Unfortunately, it so happened that in the morning I was the only survivor. Ten men froze to death. Even the guys with minor injuries all froze to death. I don't know how I survived. My fight for life lasted for two days and three nights. And on the third day I was found by the DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic] reconnaissance. During this time, I just did everything I could. I ate snow. I tried all means to survive. And when I was found by the DPR scouts, they took me prisoner. I tried to walk on my own, but I could only take a couple steps before falling. When the DPR guys saw me I was on my knees. They said: "Get up!" I said: "I can't, I have frostbite." I didn't eat, didn't drink. Who saved me? My guardian angel? The desire to live? The love of my friends?
So when the guys found me, I told them that I can't get up. And they said: "Crawl." I crawled on my knees to them. Then I felt myself being picked up and shoved into a car. I was driven to Donetsk. I realized that somebody was looking for me. There was an exchange of prisoners. I called some friends and they began to sound the alarm that I'm alive. Everyone thought I had died. For some reason they really didn't like that I was from Kyiv. "Where are you from?” they asked. I said I was from Kyiv. And all of a sudden there is a strong blow to my ribs. My fifth and sixth ribs were broken. But this is an ordinary occurrence.
But when I was brought to Donetsk, I was hooked up to a drip and patched up. A nurse took care of me. She saved my life. So many people saved my life, you cannot even imagine. That evening an ambulance came and took me to Dnipropetrovsk. And from there I was flown to Kyiv, thanks to the deputy governor of Dnipropetrovsk. I didn't know I had so many friends. Then I was transferred here. Here I became the way you see me. This is my little story.
We have been given so many interesting little things. I opened one bag, and inside were baby dolls made out of yarn. They were so beautiful. Kids are trying to give a drop of their hearts. We telephoned them. They were so not expecting it that they couldn't even say a word when we called. We know that many parents of these kids are at the front, and that many have already died. The children are so inspired that they are willing to draw and draw. It's not even praise – it's a sign of respect. No matter how thick the bundle of letters, we called everyone and thanked them.
We came to Vadym a second time. We didn't want to ask him anything. We just talked about simple things: love, travel, language and friendship.
It's the simple things: to speak your native language, to love your native land. I love the Ukrainian language. It is so beautiful. I watch all movies in Ukrainian and read Ukrainian books. It is a nice, rich, melodic language.
I'm not a patriot, I’m just a Ukrainian. I love my city — I love Kyiv. I love my friends. I'm from Kyiv, but my mom is from the Vinnytsia oblast and my dad is from the Kyiv region. I am a fifth generation Kyivan – it is very rare. The intellectuals of Kyiv were either destroyed or left.
The people have to realize that it is they who choose the president, who should work for them, not the president who chooses the people. More than one generation must pass before people cast off the Soviet system. For 70 years they taught people to steal.
The state has to change its attitude toward teachers and doctors. They need to give them a good salary, so that they are interested in their work. Teachers should be interested in teaching children. We need to start with this.
I can sit up by myself already. Every day when my friend comes here, he sits me up, and gives me massages. Every day, otherwise I will have pneumonia.
Just then a man comes through the door. This is Ruslan, the friend Vadym was talking about.
We have been friends since the second grade. This is the first person I called from there and told that I was dying. And he rushed to find me. He called everyone. Unfortunately, my military leadership was no longer looking for me. And then I was brought to Dnipropetrovsk. When they unwrapped my arms I said: "Good grief, something is wrong with my hands." This is not our war. We didn't order it. This war was imposed on us.
Ruslan: The main thing is not to forget these people. Like in the Soviet Union, when they told the Afghan War veterans: "We did not send you there." No, we have to remember; otherwise, it will be mournful. I look at all my problems differently now. Now when I have problems I think about the problems Vadym has to solve and mine look petty.
Vadym: But I solve all my problems thanks to him.
Ruslan: God willing, everything will be fine. If you survived out there, everything will be fine here. You will have a wedding, a christening and so much more. Everything will be all right. It cannot be that so many people died for nothing. It does not happen this way.