“I’m a civilian,” he said. “Give the treats to the wounded soldiers.”
The young man on crutches smiled and refused to take any fruit or chocolates from my basket. I didn’t look at his injury and focused on his eyes. But I knew he was a soldier, because I was in Kyiv’s central military hospital. And there are no civilian patients there.
It was Armed Forces Day in Ukraine, so I decided to visit the young men who are recovering in the military hospital – bring them some smiles and treats. The elegant 18th-century hospital facility is not an easy place to visit. It’s full of men and women who have been crippled by the war that has been waging on Ukraine’s territory for a year and a half. But I go there from time to time. So I know where the volunteer centre is, as well as the trauma unit, where the worst injuries are treated.
This day, I went with two friends who had never been. One was not sure he could go in, so I told him he could wait outside on a bench. But he followed me up the steps and joined me in distributing the modest treats we had.
Once again, I was overwhelmed by how these bandaged guys – many of whom are missing feet, legs, hands and arms – smile and want others to receive treats. “There’s a few more in the next room,” one young man told me. He was thin, gaunt-looking, wearing worn-out navy blue sweat pants, sitting on a bench in the hall, talking on his cell phone. As I slipped some tangerines into his pocket he smiled and directed me to his buddies.
In another room, a wounded soldier was reading a recent best seller about the battle over Donetsk Airport by Sergei Loyko called Airport. The copy in his hands was well worn, looked like it had been passed around. That reminded me, another friend had asked me to look into giving books to the wounded soldiers. Will do that on my next visit.
Today was distracted trying to find the room of the first guy we saw who was too modest to take anything. We found it, and his buddies told us which bed is his. So he’ll find some treats when he returns from his rounds, visiting his comrades.
Marta Dyczok, a Western professor jointly appointed in History and Political Science, specializes in international politics and history, with a focus on east central Europe and Eurasia, and specifically Ukraine.