Courageous Ukrainian civilians are making extraordinary contributions in support of their country’s freedom from Russian aggression. A ShareAmerica series, Defending Ukraine, profiles some of the people who exemplify this indomitable spirit.
In 2014, when Russia illegally invaded Ukraine, including parts of the Donbass region, Yana Zinkevych was a high school student planning to become a doctor. She wanted to be a part of it to help her beleaguered country.
Upon graduation, she joined the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps in Donbass, where she was responsible for providing medical assistance. A limited number of doctors worked in conflict areas.
“There was no one to tend to the wounded,” she said. The New Yorker. “I understood that I had to do something.” So she founded Hospitallers, a volunteer paramedic organization. The agency’s slogan is “for the sake of every life”.
Zinkevych came up with the idea for the organization’s name after a priest shared the story of the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller as she and others sought shelter from bombing in Donbass.
She said she began to think that if she lived to see the next day – “because the shelling was constant” – she would launch a medical unit and call it the Hospitallers.
The group started small, with a handful of volunteers and a vehicle. It has been growing steadily over the last nine years. On a typical day, the team will serve between 10 and 12 people, helping soldiers and civilians alike.
Zinkevych led more than 200 evacuations before being injured in a 2015 car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. She continues to train volunteers on how to treat victims.
The BBC included Zinkevych in a list of the 100 Most Inspiring and Influential Women of 2022. Zinkevych is a Member of Parliament and has won the Order of Merit of Ukraine award.
Hospitallers continue to do life-saving work, often at great personal risk. Tatiana Vasilchenko, 49, retired from accounting and trained with the Hospitallers from 2021. She went to Mariupol on 23 February 2022, the day before the full-scale invasion of Russia, and was held captive for five months in the Azovstal steel plant before being liberated. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy honored her and others during a ceremony in December 2022.
Another volunteer, Anastasia Fomitchova, a Kyiv native living in France, trained with the Hospitallers in 2017 when she was 23. “I felt like I wasn’t doing enough,” she said. The New Yorker.
She began delivering rations to Ukrainian troops in Donbass and continues to make trips back to Ukraine during breaks in her university studies.