Ilona Khomenko was widowed nearly two months ago when her husband died in fighting in Sievierodonetsk in eastern Ukraine. Now, she's looking to make a difference on the battlefield.
Khomenko is helping to train soldiers and civilians in combat first aid to help save lives as Russia's war in Ukraine is well into its fifth month. And she hopes to go to the front line herself one day.
The training is mostly based in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv. Up to 100 people attend each day. So far, Khomenko and others have taught more than 5,000 people simple rules that can save their lives.
One of those attending the course is soldier Liudmyla Rohacheva. “I am currently working in the rear, but there is a possibility that I will get to the front line. And I think that all soldiers should undergo such training,” Rohacheva said during a break between sessions.
The attendees learn to provide sequential care under the MARCH acronym for easy recall: M for massive hemorrhage, A for airway, R for respiratory, C for circulation and H for hypothermia.
“The units we trained have wounded, but they survive. And those units that didn't undergo training have a much worse ratio of wounded and survivors,” said Oleksandr Khyzhniak, the head of the training center.
The center teaches, for example, how to apply a tourniquet in 25 seconds. Such an action can save a life. “The machines will not fight alone. We need people to manage it. And these people must be saved,” Khizhnyak said.
The training mimics front-line conditions. At one location, an instructor frantically shouts into a trench: “A sniper is working in the sector. Drag them to safety! Do you want to live?”
It's a way to immerse trainees in stressful situations that shouldn't stop them from acting when needed.
Natalia Demchevska, a doctor in the emergency service in the Kyiv region, said she came to the training to learn how to provide first aid in combat conditions.
She said she learned many things she didn't know before, even though she works in medicine.
The center also encourages civilians to get training.
“We live in a war. And we do not know how the circumstances will develop. When a missile comes, it doesn't choose who to hit,” instructor Maksym Maksymenko said.
On May 23, Khomenko's husband, Svyatoslav Khomenko, died in fighting. Like many in Ukraine, he left his job and went to war. Her husband used to send her photos of nature from the front line.
“He went to war because he wanted to save what he loved so much," Ilona Khomenko said. Now, in her own way, she hopes to save what she loves too.
She said she had always wanted to go to the front to be closer to her husband. But he was against it, so she enrolled in combat medic courses. Now she's a volunteer and plans to become an instructor.
If Khomenko could go back in time, she said she would have studied medicine. She realised this while preparing the first-aid kit for her husband at the front.
Despite her grief, she is grateful to fate that she can now help save the lives of other soldiers. “The best people of Ukraine are in the war. And I want to learn everything that will help me save them,” she said.