The casing of a cluster munition stood upright like a fence pole not far from a team of Ukrainian medics rushing a bleeding soldier from the eastern front.
One of the doctors reassured the wincing fighter that the tourniquet being squeezed just above his knee did not mean he was about to lose a part of his leg.
Another peered back at the smoke rising above one of the biggest battles of Russia’s methodical assault on its pro-Western neighbour and cursed.
Some soldiers formed a protective circle around the scrambling paramedics and took down coordinates over their walkie-talkies for the next medical evacuation from the front.
“They come in waves,” volunteer fighter Mykola said of the Russians’ repeated attempts to push south past a strategic river near a rural settlement called Bilogorivka.
“They tried over the weekend and we pushed them back. Now they are trying again. It goes back and forth. First they hit us, then we hit them.”
‘A little bit scary’
Surging military morale and a national outpouring of support for the army have been instrumental to Ukraine’s ability to first defend Kyiv and then stall Russia’s advance across the east.
This may be harder to maintain as the death toll mounts and Russia’s superior strength in numbers and military muscle starts to translate into lasting gains.
The fog of war and military secrecy make it difficult to estimate how many soldiers both sides have lost in the battles.
But medics treating the wounded soldier near the cluster munition fired at the Bilogorivka checkpoint think it is far higher than what Ukraine suffered at the start of a Kremlin-backed insurgency in 2014.
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Volunteer medics Andriy Kukhar and Yuriy Kozhumyaka admit they are unable to save many of the soldiers they help extract from the battlefield
Volunteer medics Andriy Kukhar and Yuriy Kozhumyaka admit they are unable to save many of the soldiers they help extract from the battlefield Yasuyoshi CHIBA AFP
“In all, if you look at the statistics, it is a little bit scary,” volunteer doctor Yuriy Kozhumyaka said after helping lift the wounded soldier into an ambulance waiting a relatively safe distance away from the shellfire.
“You must be prepared for that. But it is shame,” the 37-year-old art instructor-turned-doctor said.
Fellow volunteer paramedic Andriy Kukhar sounded a similarly sombre note.
“Many die,” the 38-year-old dentist by training said. “We cannot do anything to help many guys and they die. But this is war. We know this.”