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From kyiv to Lyon, the epic of a Ukrainian family separated by war

Doctor Andriy Rusnak, Ukrainian cardiac surgeon, now a war doctor at the Irpin evacuation point, here in kyiv, on March 28, 2022.

The smoke from the explosions covers the horizon with a blackish shroud. The Russian artillery fire was a little less intense that morning than the day before. It has been some time since the medical unit responsible for collecting the wounded from the Irpin front left the crossroads of rue du Général-Naumov, too exposed, and pitched its tent behind a building in Sviatochynsky, the last quarter before the front in the northwest of kyiv, to protect themselves a little from rockets and mortar shells.

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Ukrainian rescuers wait for civilians to come out of the hell of Irpin, attacked for a month by Russian forces. Ambulances and volunteer vans are ready, at any moment, on a radio call, to rush to the Irpin bridge, where it is not uncommon for them themselves to be targeted by a volley of shells . Discreetly parked a little away from civilians and humanitarian workers, a medicalized military van is also waiting for its radio to crackle. This team has an even tougher task: it is dedicated to helping combatants on the battlefield.

Next to the Transporter, a man watches, one ear straining towards the military radio, the other towards his cell phone. His automatic rifle is casually placed on the passenger seat. He is smiling, relaxed. Andriy Rusnak, 46, is not, in peacetime, either a nurse or a military paramedic, or even an emergency doctor: he is the chief cardiac surgeon in Ukraine.

“Most useful here”

“I am more useful here, in this urgent care team”, says Andriy Rusnak in a soft voice. The department he directs at the Amosov National Institute of Cardiovascular Surgery in kyiv now only accepts emergencies, and the number of operations has fallen from ten a day to two or three a week. So the surgeon, who had no “never seen a war wound” of his life, he says with a laugh, feels more at home in this van which transports wounded fighters between the fronts and the hospitals of kyiv.

As for all Ukrainians, Andriy’s life changed on February 24, the day of the Russian attack. He was at home in kyiv with his wife Elena and their three children aged 9, 5 and 3 when the first air raids targeted the Ukrainian capital. “The little one didn’t understand what was going on, he was thinking of fireworks or something like that, smiled the doctor. Then we were all very scared and lived three days cloistered, locked in the bathroom”the only room without windows.

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