KIEV – The fighting in Ukraine may have come to a ceasefire, for the most part, and from the calm in combat we can now see a new battle emerging out of the smoke from this conflict which is the very real road to recovery and recuperation for the injured veterans of Ukraine. Max, an eleven year veteran of the Ukrainian Army, a Non-Commissioned Officer, and member of the Commando Special Group is recovering in a Kiev military hospital from multiple gunshot wounds to the leg.
In early March I met with four of Max’s friends in front of the military hospital just outside of downtown Kiev. They arrived individually, their arms loaded with bags of food, bottled water, and basic health care products for Max, comfort items I presumed. We then entered the hospital compound through a lackadaisically guarded gate system and made our way through an obtusely structured courtyard to one of many large communist-concrete block buildings. There we paused in the lobby to sign-in where we were given white coats to wear and to purchase some compulsory cheap plastic covers for our shoes from a vending machine. From there we made our way through an increasingly dire scene.
Often we imagine hospitals as pristine and nearly holy in cleanliness, although the cracked floors and paint peeling from the walls gave the impression that this was not located in the capital, but near the front. Yet the front is nearly 500 miles from Kiev. When we entered Max’s room I anticipated the scene to improve, but even here the paint was peeling off the walls next to his bed in this well-worn and shared room. To make matters worse I then learned the importance of all of the goods being brought to him.
In America we often complain about the Veterans Administration, and rightly so as it is a grossly mismanaged organization which continuously fails to achieve its stated goals. Yet, while we have an organization which is more worried about its bottom line than the health of veterans; Ukraine has none. In fact Ukraine cannot effectively care for wounded warriors such as Max who was injured on Active Duty, who is on convalescence leave, and is expected to return to his unit after he recovers.
Early this year Max was operating in and around Mariupol where he was the last man out for his unit, providing rear security for his echelon to safely egress from a danger zone like any good non-commissioned officer. While providing security and ensuring accountability of his unit, Max was shot in the leg by machine gun fire. Max became what he prevented his unit from becoming, a casualty which allowed his unit to successfully return to base without any further injuries.
Max is proud of this and his service. He enlisted in the Ukrainian Army after technical school to assist others across Ukraine; Max’s ambition is to help “the usual people.” Max also shares a similar goal with many Ukrainians, he wants peace. Although he believes that is not a realistic short-term goal because of a shared opinion with the usual people of Ukraine that “the separatists and Russia will take what they want”
The conventional thinking and word on the streets in Ukraine is that Ukraine has been and will continue to be a small player in the struggle between the United States, the European Union, and the Russian Federation. This has led to a growing disenchantment not only with Ukraine’s placement on the great political chessboard and the war, but with the powers that be.
The usual people’s principle concern is corruption and according to a Transparency International survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology in late 2014, shows that 80% of Ukrainians believe the level of corruption in the country since EuroMaidan hasn’t changed, but rather has even increased. This is a belief that is shared by Max who believes the fight is simply, “political games, for others to fill their pockets.” Max along with many other Ukrainians are in agreement that the ongoing conflict uses both soldiers and civilians on the political and media stages to facilitate illicit profits for anyone simply willing to bend the rules.
A prime point to support this is displayed throughout the logistical, medical, and personnel support system provided to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Principally the Ukrainian military and its soldiers are looking for your donations and they are accepting PayPal as one of many sources of donation. Your donations are needed despite a $3.2 billion dollar defense budget for 2015, and from what one can only speculate is to bridge the widening corruption gap created by war profiteers who exist between supply lines and the actual warfighters.
This need exists because many soldiers are indeed on the other side of this gap; where they rely on their family, friends, and neighbors to supply them with gear and equipment to conduct warfare or the cash to purchase it themselves. Unfortunately, it does not simply end there; Max explained to me that each soldier essentially needs a sponsor and not just for personal protective equipment and additional uniforms but for many simple logistical needs such as food and comfort items, but it gets even worse.
There is no Department of Veterans Affairs or obligatory convalescence leave program when service members are hospitalized while injured in the line of duty, in fact a wounded warriors’ pay is stopped while hospitalized. Additionally, soldiers’ sponsors are again called upon to finance their hospitalization, care and to provide provisions for their stay. This may not be text book regulation, yet is more likely the result of the overwhelming amount of corruption throughout the official systems of Ukraine.
Max is now recovering from his wounds and is anxious to return to the fight for the usual people with his brothers and sisters in arms.