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Ukraine Troops Receive Combat Medic Training in U.K.; Nation Facing Severe Shortage of Battlefield Medical Personnel

The Yomiuri Shimbun / Kazuhiko Makita
A Ukrainian soldier assists a “wounded” comrade during a drill at a British Army facility outside of York, England, on Aug. 19.

YORK, England — Combat medic training for Ukraine troops is underway in the United Kingdom to help remedy a severe shortage of personnel who can provide emergency treatment to wounded soldiers on the battlefield.

In mid-August, training that simulated actual combat was underway at a British Army facility in the suburbs of York, England.

A British Army officer acting as an instructor emphasized before the drill that the first priority was to win the gunfight. Then the focus would shift to caring for wounded soldiers.

The aim is to achieve conditions in which wounded personnel can be treated safely, the instructor said in a serene meadow where a flock of sheep was grazing.

As the drill started, a group of Ukraine soldiers walked forward while crouching, their weapons at the ready. Suddenly, gunfire sounded from the front and one of them fell to the ground, playing the part of a wounded soldier.

The other two fired back with empty shells and carried their comrade to safety. White smoke that blocked the enemy’s view drifted into the area.

A Ukraine soldier who participated in the drill has experience helping combat medics. They said there is a serious lack of combat medics in the Ukraine forces, and vowed to save as many soldiers as possible on the frontline after learning many techniques and skills.

Fighting has intensified in many areas since the Ukraine military launched major counteroffensives in June.

According to The New York Times, nearly 200,000 Ukraine troops have been killed or wounded since Russia started its invasion last year.

About 100 Ukraine troops have so far participated in the combat medic training program, which started in June in the United Kingdom. The course lasts four weeks, with basic emergency care skills taught in the first two. The latter two weeks involve training amid an envisioned scenario in which there are many wounded soldiers.

Instructors from 3 nations

Ukrainian troops were recently learning first aid at the basic training site.

An instructor explained that when a bullet or shell fragment punctures the chest, the air that enters the body compresses the lungs, and the wounded person could quickly die. So, the air must be removed from the chest as quickly as possible by sticking a needle in the right place.

The troops listened with serious expressions as they repeatedly practiced inserting a needle into the chest of a medical doll.

The British soldier teaching the class said it was extremely important for combat medics to be able to perform such procedures while waiting for the wounded troops to be rescued.

Dutch and Icelandic troops are also serving as instructors.

Lengthy transport time

Although the Ukrainian military has not disclosed the number of troops killed or wounded, the prolonged fighting has resulted in enormous human casualties. The New York Times in August quoted U.S. officials as saying that about 70,000 Ukrainian troops had been killed and 100,000 to 120,000 wounded in the 18 months since the start of the Russian invasion.

Casualties on the Russian side are estimated to be even higher.

One of the factors contributing to the high number of deaths and wounded is the inadequate rescue and medical care arrangements on the frontlines.

During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military was able to transport wounded soldiers by helicopter and other means, and could treat them within an hour. The survival rate of wounded soldiers in the U.S. military was about 90%.

Rebuilding infrastructure

The situation for the Ukraine military greatly differs from that of the U.S. military in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Ukrainians do not have air supremacy over the two battlefronts in the Zaporizhzhia region in southern Ukraine and the Donetsk region in the east, where fierce battles continue with Russian forces. Therefore, it is difficult to quickly transport the wounded for medical treatment.

A British Army sergeant who is in charge of the program said he was told that it takes five hours to rescue and transport a wounded soldier, and that some wounded troops have been left on the frontline for several days. The sergeant emphasized that the program is teaching methods to prolong the lives of wounded troops, including measures against infectious diseases.

Rebuilding the medical infrastructure is also a challenge in Ukraine, as hospitals far from the frontlines are also under attack by Russia. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has asked other countries for assistance in the field of medical technology.