«I was always thrifty — for my medical point, I needed a whole car to fit everything. The guys were very indignant at first, but after we were left without medicine because it was burned due to the Russian attack, there were no more questions: if I need a car — I will have a car.»
Olesya "Caramel" combat medic of the 72nd brigade
Olesya with the call-sign «Caramelka» («Caramel» in English — ed.) is a combat medic who served during the Anti-Terrorist Operation in the east of Ukraine in 2016 and served for a year after the start of the full-scale invasion. She is fragile, emotional, and bright — was not also created for war. But since 2014, she has traveled to Donbas front as a tactical medicine instructor. When the woman realized that she was teaching something that had never done herself, she voluntarily enlisted in the army at the nearest military registration and enlistment office in 2016.
Olesya admits to «Vchasno» journalists: since then, she has never regretted spending years serving, although at the front it regularly seemed that she was living her last seconds of life. Currently, «Caramelka» has resigned due to the illness of her 82-year-old father, who has no one to take care of. She promised her parents never to go to war again, but she still keeps a helmet and body armor in her closet and carries a first aid kit with her around the clock. And Olesya admits that she is terribly afraid to break and go to her comrades from the 72nd brigade.
Vershyna, Zaitseve, Novoluhanske, Vuhledar, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Volnovakha — this is only a partial list of locations where Olesya was. The medic says that she was terribly afraid of shelling, almost every time she became a target — her knees buckled and her hands shook. But she has never regretted her decision to voluntarily go to serve. When the Russians tried to use shells to raze to the ground the house in which the field medical point was set up and the wounded soldiers were treated, she deliberately stayed nearby, instead of running to shelter.
«When you are a combat medic, you are constantly covered in blood. It is in your shoes, on your hands, on your face, and the clothes are soaked with blood. Even if you wear gloves, there is still a risk of contracting, for example, hepatitis, or tuberculosis. You are constantly on the edge. And I had many acquaintances who got infected,» «Caramelka» says.
In addition to the danger of infection, there is another less obvious threat for fragile female doctors — getting lost during evacuation after falling out of a car. Olesya recalls how it almost happened at the front line.
«I remember how the sergeant and I went to evacuate three soldiers wounded in the back, eye, and head. We jumped into the car very quickly, because under mortar shelling, we barely found the boys! And the sergeant says: «Hold on,» because the Russians began to calculate the trajectory to aim at us. Well, we’re holding on… But we didn’t have time to close the pickup truck when we ran into it, and the sergeant drives in a way that once made a soldier throw up. And we are driving, we are shaking in the car, Russian shelling from above… It was so scary! And we try to hold on, we tell each other some jokes. And at some turn, I realize that every time I am thrown off I slide to the edge. A little bit more — and I’m out of the car. I yell to the guys that I’m going to fall out now because I’m only 45 kg plus a bulletproof vest. And they grab me by the vest and hold me!
And then a piece of projectile hits us. The car suddenly stops — and that’s it, it doesn’t move further! I don’t know if the driver is alive, what should I do? And I start to think chaotically that we are now somewhere in the middle of the road. Which way is faster — to move back, where we took the boys, or to the base? I have a million thoughts. I’m already blaming myself that I have an abysmal sense of direction because I didn’t even remember which settlements we passed. And I think: how can I evacuate boys? All are wounded, they cannot be left. Take them out of the car one at a time and put them somewhere nearby or run with them to the base, also one at a time?! And suddenly the car started and we drove. I was so happy… As it turned out later, during the shelling, a mine went into the ground and exploded under our wheels. Of course, the tires were torn, the driver got a concussion, but we made it," «Caramelka» recalls.
Olesya with her comrades next to the car, named after her — «Caramelka"/
Olesya notes that in war, it is not enough for a combat medic to simply be «on the spot» or evacuate the wounded. In order to save the lives of comrades, it is often necessary to take care of them: regularly check the first-aid kits, and ask about diseases — both chronic and inflammatory processes. And most importantly, to monitor the process of taking medicines.
«I always had everything under serious control. Firstly, I was very thrifty, so I had so many medications that I shared them with other companies and medics. We even had exchanges of medicines. I needed a car for all the boxes with medications. At first, the guys were indignant that one car was «allocated» just for such things. But when during the attack all our medicines were burned and we only had the remains — they understood how important it is. After that, there were no questions, because they understood the importance of all those stocks of my «medical point». Moreover, I had not only those medicines that are needed for army stuff but also those that the boys needed personally. For example, I know that my comrade has some health issues or some kind of disease, whether it’s rashes or psoriasis, and he doesn’t have time to buy medicine or he doesn’t have much of it left, so I used to buy it with my own money.
And I never waited for them to come to me for a medical consultation — I came to them fist, no matter what happened — finger cuts, poisoning, or some kind of rash," Olesya recalls.
Over the past two years, the number of women in the Armed Forces of Ukraine has increased by 40% compared to 2021, the Ministry of Defense reported on October 16. Today, about 43,000 servicewomen are serving in the army. However, «Caramelka» admits that both in civilian and military life, she is constantly faced with the fact that women have to fight for their place. Often it’s about some excesses — for example, the attitude of doctors to women in uniform.
«An example from life: when I was fighting, my health was very bad. Of course, we are not talking about any regular periods — you are constantly under stress, you may have several critical „cycles“ per month, or you may not have them for 2−3 months. At some point, I started having inflammation, and chronic problems both with women’s health and with the back. I had to go to the hospital. And there were no questions to the men who were being treated — „a hero“, „he is being treated, poor thing because he fights and protects us“. That’s right, of course. But doctors constantly told me: „What are you complaining about? There are boys on crash carts!“. And I did not understand: in order to be perceived as a patient, and not as if I had come to the resort, I had to be injured? I was really treated as if I had come to rest from the war. And even though in the ranks of the Armed Forces we were equal I often had to struggle with the idea that I could only be a clerk. I had to fight for my visits to the front because at first, they didn’t want to let me go,» Olesya recalls.
Photo from Olesya’s archives
In public transport, according to the medic, the situation is the same — if men show their certificates of warfare participants — they are silently allowed onto the bus and have free travel. However, if the woman does the same, the debates occur in her presence.
Olesya adds that she understands that women are physically weaker than most men. But sometimes the forces can be the same.
«Women's advantage is that when men have already assessed all options for a certain task and stopped looking, we can suggest another way out. Our brain simply works in a slightly different vector,» the medic says.
«In my opinion, both women and men should enlist in the army. But women must immediately be ready for real conditions: lack of convenience, often spending the night in a damp trench, cold weather, and potential health issues that will certainly arise — at least with the back and women’s health. If you don’t have small children and you can be useful in the army — go. As for men, there is no question here: they must go to fight. Because it’s so hard for guys to be constantly under fire, without days off or rest. And it is even more difficult to understand that no one wants to change them. And they have never been on vacation since the beginning of the invasion. It is difficult and scary,» the combat medic says.
Olesya notes: in her opinion, women in the army can already be respected — at least for the fact that they voluntarily went to fight.
Photo from Olesya’s archives
Author: Alina Yevych