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Yulia Shevchuk: “It is very difficult not to fight when there is an ongoing war”


I am from the city of Lubny, Poltava region, and lived there with my grandmother until I was in the 9th grade.  In the 10th and 11th grades, my parents took me to Kyiv to enter the university. I have been living in Kyiv for 12 years now. 

I could not imagine that my life would turn out this way. I studied at the Faculty of Cybernetics at Taras Shevchenko University. I was supposed to be a systems analyst, but I planned to pursue a scientific career. I know the history of Ukraine very well, so I was involved in various social activities. But I was constantly feeling sick in public transport or in the crowd, I didn’t have enough oxygen. I couldn’t imagine myself going anywhere crazy. Now I can. 

When I was planning to build a scientific career, we had opportunities to go to another country for a double master’s degree or a double postgraduate degree. And I wanted to at least do a double postgraduate program in another country. I wanted to go to study and come back here. I have always had only one country, and I connected my life with it. 


The very first evening when students gathered on the Maidan, I missed it, because I was sleeping. I came the next day. Back then, It’s not that I needed the Maidan, it was the Maidan that really needed people. Although, some of my friends who used to go to some protests were expelled from the university. I didn’t like Yanukovych’s regimel or his policies  of implementing changes, and I didn’t like where he was pulling our country. I realized that if there was some big protest against teh system, I would take part in it. And I did. 

I was doing a lot of different things on the Maidan. I was reporting news in the public sector of Euromaidan. I helped at the information centre, telling people where to go and where to stay. Once I was told to answer in the commandant’s office on the hotline. I hosted people in for the night in my house because I was from Kyiv and my mom was very happy. And I would go and spend the night at the Maidan myself. In washed the floor twice шт the Trade Union building and  made sandwiches. I just saw where there was work to be done and did it. I had to carry bricks, so I went to carry bricks. If I had to carry sandwiches – I did.

My friend invited me to the “Art Hundred” because I can play five musical instruments. But it turned out that the “audition” was not very difficult to pass. I had to come to pre-organized events. And as I’m punctual and organized, I just showed up and then I was told: “That’s it, you’re the coordinator now.”

After the Maidan, I was a bit down for six months, because I saw people being kicked into the asphalt. I was standing on the steps of the Ukrainian House building with my friend, wearing blue helmets and medical backpacks, and “Berkut’ suddenly started chasing people. And we had a “perfect” view of it. Berkut had no mercy on people. If someone fell down, they would run over deliberately. I had nightmares about it later.

I was already ready for the full-scale war. But on the Maidan, I was not mentally prepared for this. Because I didn’t go there to fight. I came as a “plus one” just to express my disagreement. 

I was finishing my fourth year of studies, and I went to get a master’s degree. For the first time in my life I had to take my exam twice, as I didn’t pass. Before that, I was a grade-obsessed student and a perfectionist, but the Faculty of Cybernetics quickly “broke” us all. I was selected out of the 16 best student in Ukraine, but after the first semester, only four of them were granted a scholarship. Everyone else got C’s. 

I came to my exam wearing shorts because I had a train to Mariupol in four hours. But I didn’t make it to Mariupol. I was told to get off in Berdiansk, because Mariupol was already under occupation.

I studied first aid because I had to provide first aid on the Maidan, especially during the hot phases in February. 

My grandmother’s dream was to go to medical school. But her mother wouldn’t let her because her husband died in the war and her first child died during the war. My grandmother suffered all her life. My mom is afraid of blood, and so is her sister. And since I was four years old, I would “heal” people’s wounds by blowing on them and carrying a plaster, so my grandmother “appointed” me a medic. Since I lived with her until the 9th grade, she taught me a lot about medicine. I had to memorise the paramedic’s handbooks various medical books and biology. I had to recite everything word for word, paragraph for paragraph. Otherwise, I wasnt allowed to go for a walk or to sleep. 

The first years of the war

A close friend of mine was killed in Ilovaisk. For several months I was in a strange state, not a very good one. I would just come to class, sit down, stare at one point, the class would end, and I would go home and go to bed. This lasted for about three months. And then my other friend came to visit. He told me details of my friends death not knowing that he was a close person of mine. He died because there was not enough medical staff. And I already had knowledge at that time. And I could no longer stay at home. 

At first, I got a job as a storekeeper at the DUK. They told me: “You have already completed so many courses, start teaching a little bit.” I started teaching tactical medicine. And in the spring of 2015, I went to Dzerzhynsk for the first time. Now it is Toretsk. We distributed first aid kits and taught first aid there. We also brought a dentist, because the a lot of guys had problems with dental fillings and teeth after winter, and we had to make many tooth extractions. The doctor just needed an assistant so I assisted the dentist.

I was offered to go as a paramedic to the PFVMH (First Volunteer Mobile Hospital). But the rotation was postponed for seven days. And I had four exams in those seven days. They weren’t ok with the fact that I would be late. So I did not get to the PFVMH. I texted Yana Zinkevich and to Khottabych from ASAP RESCUE. And Khottabych was the first to reply. So I joined ASAP RESCUE. I became a paramedic in the summer of 2015: Bakhmut, Popasna, Mayorsk, Zaitseve. At that time, Bakhmut was a peaceful city – the rose alley, Pizza Celentano, a bunch of OSCE vehicles around.

In 2015, there was a little more work and the supplies were worse. Sometimes we had to buy supplies with our own money. In 2016, it got definitely better. Sometimes, when there was no work, we would go to the checkpoints for preventive measures: to measure glucose, to help someone.

In fact, it was hard to combine these trips with my studies. I went on vacation or found time between classes.  In fact, I spent the entire scholarship on my trips. It was lucky to live with my mother and I didn’t have to pay for the dormitory at least. I bought my first uniform with my scholarship. We were like that, kind of crazy. In the summer, I had two rotations. And then I became an instructor. 

My first injury

Then I went for a research internship, but I felt quite uncomfortable because people were at war, and I was in Poland, studying, on a European scholarship. I had a dream about that close friend who died. I had a dream that he was alive. I woke up and felt happy for the first time in a very long time. I had a feeling that he was alive. Because before that, my world was somehow wrong. When young people walk by and are so bright and beautiful, and you look and think: “What’s left? What’s the point?” 

So I came back and asked to continue my rotations. I went on a winter rotation with ASAP. And I got hit by a mine.

I received a call and was told to go and pick up a heavily wounded soldier. I reported that I was at the point, ready to receive him. And so we did. But the radio connection was not secure and perhaps we were heard by the enemy. The separatists already knew where our checkpoint was and shot four mines there. One mine fell right where I was sitting. Pieces of glass flew in my face, a fragment hit my forehead, two fragments hit my arm. The driver told me to get out of the car, so I opened the door and fell into the gravel face down. Then the second mine came, and when the third and fourth came, we had already hidden. 

The third mine landed very close to the dugout, and the wooden piles started to shake. We joked that we probably wouldn’t need to be buried anymore, as it would be enough just to put a cross on top and that would be it.

It happened that I was the only combat medic in several kilometres so I stayed there for the night. In the morning I was taken to the hospital in Bakhmut. They removed shrapnel from my arm and stitched me up there. 

A difficult period

I did not see myself in the army. It’s just that there are times when you have to do a certain work. If you don’t do it – Kyiv will burn, Lviv will burn, Chernivtsi will burn, and the enemy  will go from city to city, destroying everything. I visited the Donetsk region and saw how “well” everything was going there, it was definitely better before the russians occupied it. 

I realized that I am able to do this job because I am a phlegmatic and not very emotional and when there is some crazy shit going on around, I not only think clearly, I can take creative decisions.

In 2016-2017, I went on rotations to different places in Donetsk region.  

In 2016, I started going to rotations with the “Hospitallers”. Yana (Yana Zinkevych, commander of the “Hospitallers Medical Battalion”) interviewed me. In 2017, Yana put me into the “Hospitallers” municipal enterprise, which was engaged in training special categories of people to provide first aid. I was made the head of the training department.

When I was very bad, I lay on my mother’s balcony for a month in the sleeping bag I used at the frontline. I did not eat properly and did not get up much. I was severely depressed as a result of the fact that I was not properly treated for panic attacks. Which were caused by a heavy workload. I would lie there and toss a coin – whether I should throw myself from the 12th floor or not. I made a wish for heads, and I got tails twice. 

From time to time, my mom would ask me if I wanted anything. This time she asked if I ever wanted anything at all. I remembered that when I was a kid I wanted a dog. I told my mom: “I want a dog. A Labrador.” My mom said: “Okay, we’ll buy you a dog.” I knew about canine therapy and decided to try it. And it helped. 

It didn’t “heal” the depression, but I had to feed him good food. So I went to work at an IT company. I would take him for a walk in the morning and in the evening.

The full-scale war

Before 2022, I had a period when I worked a little bit for a joint venture with my boyfriend – we were making first aid kits and periodically held trainings. 

But people were’nr buying the kits that well, or we weren’t selling them that well, and it wasn’t profitable.

I knew that there would be a full-scale war, but my calcuations were wrong. I thought it would start around April, when it’s all green. I bought some necessary medical suppplies for the “Ukrainian Legion” NGO, and they were stuck with me since February 24th, some of them were nort ready yet, and some were still at Nova Poshta. And the money was paid for them. And it was the war. I thought, the war will end in 20 years, and I would still be paying this money. But in two months it was solved. 

I was assigned to a crew in the ‘Hospitallers’, but the guy from the crew had to patrol Kyiv, the girl was giving first aid to someone, and I was trying to find where to leave my dog…

Anyway, I came to the military enlistment office. I showed them my military ID. They asked: “Do you know how to organise medical stabilisation points?” I said: “Yes, I can”. “Go, and organise them”.

I was given a temporary military ID with the military specialty “paramedic”, where they wrote that I was drafted, but did not write where and my position. I spent a little time in the Territorial defence. And then everything settled down in Kyiv and the region. 

As a result, I joined the “Hospitallers”. First, I went on a rotation to Zaporizhzhia, and then to the Kharkiv region. There we went to pick up seriously wounded people and the car in front of us hit an anti-tank mine. The crew of that car was killed. And the remains were already flying at us.

The rehabilitation period was bad. I injured both legs at once. And the right one was much worse than the left. All the ligaments holding the ankle joint were torn. The leg was blue and swollen. I jumped on the broken leg, on these torn ligaments and developed a pathological instability. In general, I have many problems not only with my legs. 

It is very difficult not to fight when there is a war. There is a great lack of people at the frontline. And there are even less people who have at least some experience. And even less people who have more experience, who can teach something, who can do something with their hands. And even less people with at least some education…



Why do you have the call sign “Cookie”?

Back during the Maidan, I used to bring cookies from home, delicious cookies with raisins, and since I don’t eat cookies very much, I used to feed them to someone. I would see a sad person, hand them to him or her and say: “A cookie.” And then one boy started calling me that. When I was told that I had to come up with a call sign, I remembered only that.

What kind of personality do you have?

I’m really calm, but when I see something that seems very unfair towards others, then I get impatient. And if I need something for myself, I’m like, “I’m going to sleep.”

Who are you outside the army?

Before the large-scale invasion, I planned to work actively, earn a certain amount of money and wanted to set up my own small rehabilitation center. A center that would work according to evidence-based protocols and deal with the specifics of war trauma. And now there is an even greater need for this. 

The fact is that we need not only to build good rehabilitation centers, but also to pay attention to each wounded person in time, despite the flow of wounded. Because now we really lack this. For example, contusions and small shrapnel remain undiagnosed and untreated. They keep accumulating, and then with each passing month and year they become more difficult to treat. 

How do you envision the country after the victory, after the war? 

Part of the society will work to rebuild the country, part will live the same way as before. People were waiting for the counteroffensive to sit with popcorn and watch the cards change color, that it was already ours. No one thinks about how at this moment medics are carrying endless wounded people without sleep. Because the offensive is not pretty at all. It’s not like the tables are turned at once. It’s dirt, snot, tears, blood, feces, urine, and anything else. Nothing beautiful. 

Why do you want to participate in the Invictus Games?

Once I was invited to a photo shoot at “Veteran Hub”. I arrived, and Taras Kovalyk was there and said: “Check out the Invictus Games”. I said: “No, I got two left hands”. He replied: “There are people with no hands at all, and you have two. Go ahead.” I was thinking of applying for the Invictus Games, but after I get in shape. I decided to try out for the selection and see how others did. And I was chosen for the national team. 

I want to represent Ukraine with dignity. I think this is a good opportunity.

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