We’re in a green and cozy park on the premises of the hospital run by the Interior. If a movie was made about any of its patients, this scene would be captioned as “post-injury rehab.” In this place, peace, love and care literally float in the air. There are benches everywhere. Plenty of women around. Young and old. Sisters, girlfriends, wives, and mothers... Each visiting their man. The patients, all sporting green T-shirts, are stronger in spirit than many of us.
We sit down to talk with Dmytro Finashin, call sign "Finn." He's joking around, reciting a dirty rhyme about the National Guard, the first force he joined.
This time we, the journalists, say very little. We listen to Dmytro's story, which can be of great interest to any survival school and or Ukrainian cadets. Besides, for those who are living amid this war, it is useful to remind themselves of its real cost.
HOW AZOVCHYK AND I GOT WOUNDED. THREE WEEKS AGO
The day was smoldering hot. One of my fingers was just dangling on my hand. I tried to cut it off, but it didn't work. The other hand, wounded by several shrapnel hits, became incredibly heavy from the clavicle down. Someone put a tourniquet on it, but I couldn’t evacuate so the tourniquet couldn’t be removed either. I had a choice - to lose an arm or to lose my life. So I did realize that, even if I survived, my arm would be amputated. Well, that’s if I survive ...
We went on a mission to clear a forest area outside Popasna, more precisely, near Yakovlivka, not far from Soledar. At first all was calm. We passed thick bushes, a meadow, a small hill, then there was another forest spot, and bushes again. We were to move to a certain height, where friendly forces were supposed to be located, but our advance group ran into orcs (Russian invasion forces - ed.). At this point we were still down the hill, in those bushes. The Russians outnumbered us overwhelmingly.
The first guys who got there took the burden of the fight. They were all killed, while we also got under heavy fire, began to retreat, and heard over the radios that amid such fire, evacuation is currently impossible. But the orcs started shooting straight at our bushes. So we started to get out of there, on our knees. Between our Army positions and the forest area, there is a kilometer-long field of knee-high wheat, which we had to pass.
At first it was four of us retreating: me, Azovchyk (a member of the Azov Regiment - ed.), Socrates (we were part of Kulchytsky Battalion, but at that time we were already at the disposal of the 128th Mountain Assault Brigade), and a guy from the Donbas unit.
As we just started moving out of the area, Azovchyk got hit. And I saw a bullet hitting that Donbas unit guy. There was a blood fountain running from his body where the bullet made an exit… He just collapsed with no sound. He was killed right away.
So, Azovchyk is wounded and starts shooting back, playing it hard with his machine gun. I go: “That’s enough shooting, did you get hit?” He goes: “I’m a 300 (WIA, ‘wounded in action’ - ed.)." I ask him if he can crawl up to me. So he does, and so does Socrates. We look at Azovchyk, and we see that he got hit in his shoulder, soft tissues. There’s not even blood seen.
I still don’t understand how this phenomenon works. Azovchyk is big buff guy. The bullet flew into his shoulder, passed a few centimeters and just stopped.
Socrates reports over the radio that there’s fire contact and that we’re under fire. I get the phone, check our location to see where we are and where the enemy is, and then we passed our coordinates. Our mortar engages them. The first mine slaps the orcs’ position and we hear this crazy squeal coming out of there. You know, it’s if someone hurt a pig, an inhuman roar of some kind. Some orc got hit. So everyone is shouting, fussing around… And he’s just screaming mad.
But they got us good, too. There were so many of them there so they did hit us bad. Azovchyk could no longer crawl. So we remove his armor, only leaving a helmet on. But then the bargaining begins. Azovchyk grabs the first aid kit, starting to take out stuff and demanding: “Finn, take the chlorhexidine (antiseptic - ed.), don’t leave it here, and take the patch, and these pills, too.” I go: “Why would I take it now?” He tells me not to leave this all behind. “Save the night visor,” he tells me. After all, it’s an expensive piece and it’s really difficult to get them these days.
Ukrainians try not to waste their gear, medicine, and uniform. In general, the first thing you’re supposed to do with the WIA in tactical shelter is to cut their clothes and see if there’s any bleeding. But I’ve have heard so many times in such situations: “You just dare cut something ... Do you have any idea how much it costs? My pants cost UAH 11,000 (nearly $300 - ed.). Everything is well thought out here, sett there’s this Velcro on the side ... If I am injured, don’t destroy it.”
We attach the belt under Azovchyk’s armpits, fasten it, get the straps, pull him up, and start moving. So as we’re pulling him, we feel we’re all dehydrated. Also, the adrenaline kicks in, it’s so hot outside that it’s almost unbearable.
So we dragged him for perhaps some 40 meters or so, while the orcs are just raining fire on us. We were crawling through that wheat field. And there was an anti-tank trench our guys once made, but now the orcs took over that position and were just shelling us from there. I hear our people saying on the radio that they have a WIA, heavily wounded in the face, and that then need an evac. Someone tells them that there can be no evacuation as no one can reach our positions amid dense fire.
We’re pulling Azovchyk on his back, lying down because otherwise we’ll be exposed. I push my way forward, lying down as I can’t raise my head. I hold my rifle, covering our way out, trying to somehow control the sector, trying to spot some monkey out there. And then I see that a bullet passed right through a receiver and the spring flew out. I drop my rifle and see that my finger is dangling on my tactical glove. That rifle was a trophy, by the way, I got it from our "fraternal" people, as they say. So my arm got hit e. The bullet flew into the rifle and the energy blew all the insides out. My right-hand finger hung on the skin, dangling. The glove sort of held it there a little. As a military man, I realized the situation. I put a tourniquet on my booboo and fix it finely with the left hand. I see it’s a decent booboo, actually, even tore a bit of my palm out. We continue to pull Azovchyk. I don't know how much farther we made it. I hear Socrates telling someone over the radio: “Finn is 300, light, put a tourniquet on his right hand.”
And then I feel this “Wham!” – just like that, something hits my helmet. I had the impression some huge slammed me with a sledgehammer on the head with all his might.
The next shot hits my left arm – and the pain is just fierce. And I'm trying to move my arm a bit. I can clench fingers but it turns out I just can’t move my arm. I say: “It figures I got my arm bone hit.” While down on the ground, I feel I’m getting weak way too quickly. Life energy is leaving me… I go: “Socrates, put on the tourniquet cause I’ll be gone soon if you don’t.”
The bullet, as I later learned, broke my bone at the top of the arm and went through my body, going under the collarbone before flying out. The wound was visible but no one could see what’s going on inside.
I hear Socrates screaming over the radio: “Finn is 300, heavy, evacuation needed. Come on, we can't get out of here on our own.”
They respond from over there: “Wait a bit, Butsefal (a modernized BMP infantry fighting vehicle - ed.) is about to head out. Hold on there!” Well, I guess we had to hold on.
So my guys are trying to pull me out of there, but the wounds hurt a lot. Azovchyk says: “Man, were you screaming out there! I did let us know you don’t feel right.” At some point I faded out. Amid this pain, I was already seeing slides switching before my eyes. My brain offered me some shots of my pre-war life and the first days of the invasion.
THE ONSET OF RUSSIAN INVASION, OR THE FIRST BATTLE IN FEBRUARY 2022. FOUR MONTHS AGO
I recall myself serving with the National Guard in Kyiv, protecting public order. I remember myself not enjoying my service, counting days until the end of contract. There were some rallies going on all the time on Bankova Street (outside the President’s Office - ed.). I remember myself standing there, thinking, why they pay at all? What is the sense of my life? I would mark days on the wall. A week passes, and I cross it out. And almost at the end of my contract, I went to the training ground in Stare, met with the guys from the Kulchytsky Battalion – great lads. They had been fighting since the beginning of the war (in 2014 – ed.). Really motivated patriots. Just wow… From 2018 I was transferred there, to the Kulchytsky Battalion. A month passed before I went on my first deployment. Me being a rookie, I was sent to the second line of defense. The second line is fortifications, concrete capsules, iron doors that must be guarded so that the locals don’t steal anything for scrap metal profit.
Throughout these three months, you would just sit there in the fields, checking out hares or pheasants and at the same time fighting off some colonels who would come for inspection and write you down for ignoring fungus on some pipe or field stove. So they saw how I was doing there, sitting there in that corn field, not drinking my life away, doing fine. Probably they thought I was a good guy fit for the job so they took me on the team.
My battalion was supposed to deploy along with the 80th Air Assault Brigade as it was entering Stanytsia Luhanska. That is, they are a larger military body than our National Guard unit, which fell under their command, accordingly.
On February 23, we arrived in Popasna. So we go in for rotation, spend the night according to plan and on the 24, we head out for Stanytsia Luhanska. Once we arrived, we went to sleep right away. Next morning, our commander comes in, telling us to get up and ready. Explosions rocked cities across Ukraine. The war began. We immediately got ready and drove off.
That night, we arrived in the town of Oskol. There was a dam, some administrative buildings, and a sewage treatment facility there. We were greeted by a young lad who used to work there. Immediately after the war broke out, he quit and joined a Territorial Defense unit in his area, where he was tasked with guarding that facility. He says: “You can take my shed.” I come in and see an inscription on the wall: “Kharkiv region.”
So we arrived. And every day, we would expect enemy tanks to come, but they just wouldn’t. And then we were told to move to another site, to guard the dam. In the morning we put two giant concrete slabs across the dam so that the enemy couldn’t pass so easily. I got the drone up and then it started heavily snowing. Visibility dropped to just 200 meters amid heavy blizzard. Then we hear this “Baam!” A blast. Then comes another one – that’s a tank that got blown up. We had planted anti-tank mines there. A tank and a BMP infantry fighting vehicle exploded.
So I keep operating that drone and see that the Russians have arrived, coming toward that road. “Cool,” I think. I focus the camera, pan it along the road, and there they go, a huge convoy, curving down the road. Then I see a tank standing there, with its barrel aiming directly at our dam. So I tell the guys: “Look, it's aiming at the dam, let's send the coordinates to our artillery, something’s got to be done cause it might hurt, really.”
Our artillery engaged then with a mortar. And, apparently, this triggered them. They fired several shots at these concrete slabs, then took down a couple of other buildings, the hut where we had stayed... We were standing on the dam at that time. So I sit there, looking at my rifle sight: “Maybe some infantry will be trying to advance.” A friend of mine looks at the thermal imager, seeing better through the snow. But there is nothing, no infantry at sight.
Several times they fired at us before suddenly making a U-turn and starting to drive off. We thought: is that it? They left their equipment behind, two IFVs got blown up on mines, but they just left four other IFVs behind – it’s not clear why.
One of their tanks that got hit continued to run idle all through the day until it ran out of fuel.
So they retreated. Apparently, it was reported that there are some serious guys there but they couldn’t get through our obstacle. But the next day they started ironing on us with fire...
At first they fired Grads (Soviet-era MLR systems - ed.), some other jet artillery, and then their warplane flew in, pounding us hard. Oh my, there were even some 500kg bombs there. As our guys were sheltering in one of the houses, a bomb fell some 100 meters away, forming a 20 meter-deep funnel. Orcs pummeled us hard, bombing the area. I frankly didn’t expect such “close attention” to our team. It’s then that I understood that I the war could end for much earlier than expected…
… The pain brought me back to reality.
SOCRATES WAS KILLED AND THEN IT WAS JUST ME
The guys kept pulling me toward safety. Azovchyk had already gotten up and was helping Socrates drag me. Blood was leaking everywhere. We had no water on us so dehydration kicked in. I fainted from time to time. They removed my vest as it would cling to everything on our way.
And then another fighter appeared out of nowhere. I can’t say which battalion he is with… I would really like to find him and talk to him. He gave us nalbuphine, a major painkiller. They gave me a shot. But there are two sides to this coin. On the one hand, the pain started to subside, but on the other - I began to “switch off,” fainting from time to time. Suffering a fever, I was talking nonsense, like “code,” “juice,” “let's go dig trenches,” and stuff like that.
So I was out. Then I open my eyes and see Socrates putting bits of grass on my face. I'm just lying there like this ... It's so hot, my mouth is dry, it’s like Sahara there. It feels like my tongue has dried up and stuck to the palate. Azovchyk came up with the idea of chewing wheat to get moisture out of it. So I’m chewing that wheat lying down, but it doesn't seem to give me any moisture at all.
Then I was out again before opening my eyes and seeing only someone's boots. That was the guy who joined us recently. He goes: “Socrates went forward and the orcs saw him. They took a shot. Socrates was killed.”
I was later told that the orcs took his radio and said: "Your Socrates is gone. We’ll each one of you once we find you.”
Azovchyk crawled to look for another path and got lost. And that other guy tried to keep pulling me by himself. At first, I had some strength to help him, pushing my way forward, but then I blacked out again. In the end, this guy decided to crawl to the other side. I ask him: “What are you doing?” He goes: “I'm going to find a way around, by the bushes, on the other side. I say to him: “My friend, I won’t make it, I can't, I'm barely crawling after you anyway.” And he says to me: “Well, then just keep crawling straight by yourself.”
So that’s where he left me. And I'm like, okay, straight it be, and I started crawling. I realize that I have few options, actually.
I was making really slow progress there… I was yet to cover some 70 meters to the forest line… It is very difficult to rise from the ground when your arms don’t work, but I tried anyway only to plunge back to the ground with my nose down.
From time to time I would dose off so it’s hard to tell, for how long I remained unconscious.
THE FOREST, THE RUSSIAN PILOT, OR HOW I SURVIVED AGAIN. THREE MONTHS AGO
Some say it was my rich imagination that saved me and some say that it actually played tricks with me. Maybe both. In any case, both my conscious and subconscious would offer me some episodes from the past, when I first came under an enemy warplane fire.
It was March 11, back in Kharkiv region, where the Russians first pushed on us with their tanks and then their planes started pummeling the area.
That one plane was hitting us hard, I remember. I was bolting across that forest like a hare, from hole to hole...
I remember this bombing the most. You can’t forget that. And then on this very day, March 11, the enemy plane was shot down, and 13 days later we captured the pilot who had flown that plane. He was out there in the wild for 13 days in freezing weather, so he froze his feet off. Sergey Kosyk that was. There are a lot of his "heroic" videos on the Internet, shot in Syria. And here in Ukraine, he froze his feet.
He had some firearm rounds on him, a grenade, and two push-button phones. His people would call him to coordinate his escape route, telling him where to go and what to do. He also had a Nescafe jar with some sugar in it. He was eating that sugar to survive.
The locals saw that some orc was roaming Oskol, so the kids ran to the battalion HQ and told our military about him.
In fact, there were many who wanted to kill the guy. After all, he is a pilot and has caused much grief…
Sergei wasn’t around for too long but I still had a chance to chat with him. He said he had been given coordinates and he just threw bombs.
We asked where he was on the 11th and what were his targets then? He said he didn’t know as he only engaged targets at given coordinates. That is, we are all “coordinates” for them – you and I are just coordinates and he doesn’t care about anything else, he does his job quietly, sitting in a nice cockpit, then he flies home, sleeps peacefully, and then brags that he made four sorties with the guys ha-ha, we hit those Ukrainians hard!
He started bleeding, maybe he got too nervous, so we provided first aid. Then they drove him away. It was some nice car, too, a Toyota, as I recall. Well, they put him in the trunk but anyway… A nice car, anyway.
And I also recalled how pro-Ukrainian our Kharkiv region is. How people fed us, how they opened their doors to welcome us. Also, in Sloviansk (Donets region - ed.), locals would always give us some food until humanitarian aid started flowing in systematically.
MIND GAMES THAT HELPED ME SURVIVE
It was evening time. So I crawled, then rested, and then crawled again. I got close to the forest line. And then I realized that this was the exact forest where we came from. I just shifted my route a little to the side. And then I looked and saw the low wheat, the one we had when we were heading out, and then there was higher wheat. Suddenly I see that the dude who had left me also got there.
Before that, I was telling him all the way: “Bro, we are still in the enemy rear. I won’t get out of here on my own, don’t leave me here. I’m sick, I faint all the time, I’ve lost plenty of blood.”
And he just looks at me over his shoulder, waves his hand good-bye, and just crawls away and into the forest.
At first I was shocked. I thought: “You a**hole!” Then I got myself together: “I can do it!” So I started crawling again. He was crawling on his stomach like a snake, and I was just following in his footsteps. “I’m not staying there, I’m following you, man!” I thought to myself.
And then I lost his track and didn't know exactly where to move on…
I crawled my way to the dried-up river. There were a couple of sips of dirty water left in a boot trail. I just drank it all as if it was holy water. I sucked it in along with that silt and, just like in the "Asterix and Obelix" movie, I got myself cheered up. So I’m sitting there in the bushes, clueless: where should I move from here, should I shout for help or not, maybe it's the enemy-held area…
And then it strikes me: “Damn, that’s probably the end of it.” I lie there with my eyes shut, it feels kind of better, and I only worry that, if I die here and those bastard orcs find my body, they will mess it up so bad that my wife and mom won’t even be able to bury it …
You know how dogs run away from home and die somewhere in the bushes. I don't want to die in the bushes – it’s not even a battlefield. It’s like, I don’t deserve this, so I got myself together again and started crawling somewhere. It was already dark outside. I nodded a little. As I opened my eyes, it was still dark. And then this started…
I looked and see our car behind the bushes. It’s a Range Rover and three guys from our team. I say to them: “I'm here.” And they just stand there with no reaction. I'm heading toward that car but there’s actually no car there. It was all in my head. So I lay down, took a nap, then opened my eyes and saw another car, our armored vehicle. I saw Portos, a really cool uncle, a very positive guy. I like him so much. He’s 55, already resigned but then returned to the army amid mobilization. As I started moving in his direction, he was gone...
You gotta be kidding me! I thought I should drink some more of that dirt water again, so I sipped on that silt again, and crawled back up.
I thought I should grab some stick and try to get back up to my feet. So I got to my feet and it was dark in my eyes, I could only hear a dull noise. I looked down and saw a pair of legs. These were my legs. When I got up, I fainted and plunged down the hill, suffering a pneumothorax - contusion of both lungs. Fluid began to accumulate in my lungs and my left shoulder blade cracked.
Since then, I started breathing like a dog, with frequent and intermittent breaths.
I made no such mistake anymore, I just crawled without trying to get up.
There was another problem - I was freezing.
I am in a military jacket, it’s soaked in blood, and I have fallen into the swamp. It’s freezing, really. The night was so cold steam was coming out of my mouth.
So I kept talking to myself, crawling after the cars that my mind drew for me. I call my guys who aren’t there either. There were three cars that I couldn't “catch.” It was not until later that I realized that it was all in my head. Every time they seemed so real.
I wake up in the morning, and I was shivering so bad that somewhere in Canada an earthquake was probably about to break out.
So I woke up and saw the sun already shining. I started crawling toward a meadow because it must be warmer there, right? And then I realized that I was already on our side and that this was our forest. We were heading out from here, and our guys could be somewhere around.
I was wounded at noon, on May 23, and this was the 24th, so a day has passed since I started crawling around with a tourniquet on.
I thought I should make it out alive. But I had to remove the tourniquet from my right arm. By then, I had already accepted the fact that I will lose my left one… But I must save my right arm, I thought.
I didn't freeze to death just because, like an “old wise warrior,” I wore a warm sweater and thermal underwear whenever I went out on a mission at night.
The real challenge was to “go to a restroom.” It was epic, really. I couldn’t just do it with my pants on, it’s not cool, right? Besides, if I’m all wet down there I'll definitely freeze to death at night.
So I tried to unbutton my pants somehow and it didn’t work. But I really had to go, you know. So I started cutting those buttons off. That uniform was provided by government. It was a decent one, so those buttons just wouldn’t come off. So anyway, with a huge amount of effort, I did my thing and didn’t mess up my clothes. Well done, man, I thought to myself, life’s getting better now.
So it’s the second night after I was injured and mosquitoes started getting me, along with the cold, so I no longer knew what to do.
From time to time, I heard something cold running down my stomach and was like, what the hell is that? Later on, I recalled that I had a wound here. I wanted to tape it shut, but it didn't work out.
And then I started seeing all those images again... Some soldier comes out. I go: “Hey man, do you have a radio on you? Tell them to reach out to the 128th and report that Finn is near you, that I am wounded and that I need an evacuation. They know who I am, they will understand. Meanwhile, I’ll just lie and rest here in the bushes, sleep in the sun cause it’s so cold here.” He goes: “Sure.”
I fell asleep and even got warmer. I thought, man, this is awesome, our guys might be coming soon. Then I woke up, crawled back to where that soldier stood, but there was no trace of him there, nothing. It was just another glitch.
So I crawled back into the bush and down the hill. I saw that the grass there is the greenest. I thought maybe there's water there. In fact, there really was a puddle there, a large one. However, it was all covered in white bubbles and smelled like hydrogen sulfide or something. I was like, errgh, no! And then I thought to myself, what’s your problem, man? I blew this foam off, took a sip, and it was so cold and so great...
I thought: where have you been before, my puddle? So I drank a lot and my mind cleared a bit. I found a bottle to collect water. I understood where I was, where our positions were. But I could not get to my feet and go there.
I barely opened that bottle, clamped it between my knees to open it with my teeth. Collecting water was my next challenge. The finger on my right hand was dangling – an open wound, the left hand has become a terrible burden, too, so I also just wanted to cut off. And I would do it, too, I just didn't have enough strength in me.
I took my left hand, put it in front of me, leaned on it and sipped. Once I had enough, I would push this hand aside.
Mosquitoes were feasting off of me, I remembered that I have a mosquito net in my pocket to put it over my head, I reached into my pocket but I just couldn’t get it. Eventually, I got it out, tore the package open with my teeth, and put the thing over my head, so the mosquito problem was gone.
I never succeeded in getting over the freezing cold. I fell asleep again and felt that I was freezing. I was literally shaking. Suddenly I opened my eyes and saw that our guys have arrived. They tell me: “Hey, we brought you some Coca-Cola and warm green tea.” I'm like: “Wow! But first I have to drag my PKT machine gun to another place, but it’s so heavy…”
By that moment, I could no longer bend my left arm, which was all swollen and bruised, having become a monolithic ballast.
I crawled up to these guys I thought were there, took this PKT in my left hand, as I imagined, and pulled it to the other side of the clearing. So I brought it there, crawled back, and asked where my tea was. But they told me they needed another PKT.
And so I crawled back and forth, only to hear they need more PKTs... You must be kidding me, guys! I take another machine gun, because I want my tea so bad, I crawl there, bring the gun, and come back. So I was doing this nonsense all through my second night in the wild… But then these guys vanished and I realized that this machine gun was in fact my stupid left arm, which was so heavy.
Several more times I saw cars, the military, who promised to pick me up and make me some tea. I fell asleep and woke up: no cars, no people. Why are you doing this to me, guys?...
Only later on, in the hospital, did I realize that thanks to these mind games and physical exercise I actually survived.
Another morning came. I crawled some 20 meters forward and blacked out. I tried to assess my chances of having my left arm cut off because it is a ballast that could stand on my way of surviving.
I look at the finger on my right hand, and it was all covered in bloodied dirt, some grass was stuffed there. The finger just rolled from place to place. And I thought I was definitely done with that finger, so I grabbed a knife, put it between my knees, and start sawing. I felt no pain.
As I cut it, the knife would fall out, and I would put it back between my knees… I cut the finger off by about a third, and then I just couldn't continue…
In the morning, I felt warm again. But I clearly felt that I could no longer crawl. There was no energy left in me.
I lay there by the puddle, sucking the water and blacking out again. I thought, guys, if you don't find me, that's it, I have another day and then it’s… goodbye.
And it felt so bitter because I have already suffered so much here so was it all in vain or what?! Besides, that damned shelling all the time, gunfire, mortar shelling as I'm lying there and the mines are slapping “Bam! Bam!”, dirt flying in my face.
There was another thing there I was lying when I saw a quadcopter, an orange one, flying over me. I thought maybe they're looking for me. I thought I should draw a star on the snow, as kids do, waving my hands. That thing hovered over me and flew off. I thought, now, maybe they will come and get me. Instead, someone shot a mortar but, thank God, I survived.
I lay there, recalling everything and talking to myself about how I managed to get into such a mess.
I'm a fan of TV shows about survival in the wild. I watched them all. I thought I’d be eating grasshoppers, ant larvae, or frogs… I found a frog in that puddle, but it was smaller than a fingernail, it was somehow bad to even hurt it. There were no grasshoppers or ants around, nothing in this God-forgotten place at all.
And on the morning of the 25th, after those "machine gun carrying missions" overnight, I raised my head and saw a group of soldiers walking down the hill, about six people, carrying rifles. My first thought was it was orcs. I lay down on the grass and thought I could hide there. And immediately I realized I had no weapons on me, I just couldn’t do anything.
I thought that, once they find me, they’ll interrogate me about my positions, what I did before, who I am in general. I won’t make it out alive, they'll just kill me and I'll be lying here in this field like a piece of meat. But for some reason I couldn’t even think it was our Ukrainian group.
I thought I hid well. In a few seconds, I heard someone asking me: “Who are you?” And I'm lying there, thinking what a great master of camouflage I am...
The soldier comes up closer and asks once again: “Who are you?” I go: “I’m Dmytro Finashin.” He comes up closer: “Who are you with?” And I see he has a Ukrainian-type camo on so I thought: “Lord, you heard me!” And I almost cried as I said: “I'm with the National Guard.” “And what are you are doing here if you’re with the National Guard, huh? You’re supposed to be guarding something or beating people with a baton, not lying here in the forest. What are you doing here?” he told me.
This is how our Army guys traditionally mock the National Guard. I say: “We were ambushed as we were clearing the area, so here I am.” “Is this a tourniquet you got on?” he asks. “Yes,” I say, “my arm was broken, and there’s a wound right here, and a broken arm, too.” He asked me, how long I was out there. And it seemed to me that four days had already passed. He was like, “Oh, man, four days, you say? Bro, don't worry, we won't leave you here.” At that moment, I already understood that they were real people. They were too realistic, too detailed. They say we won't leave you, we're from the 80th, now we're leaving a man with you, while we go and do reconnaissance to see where you crawled from. The guys come back and say everything’s clear. There was a firefight, there are weapons lying around, and a body, too.
I suggested it was the guy who got wounded in the face. He showed me the chevron, but there was no call sign written there. In our group, everyone had a call sign written, while those who arrived later on didn’t. I recalled we had two men without call signs on chevrons. I asked him to describe the man. He said his face was all bandaged, and that he had a mustache and long hair. I realized that it was that guy Sviat. He joined us late, having arrived from Kyiv. He was with an anti-tank unit, a Javelin operator. So these guys returned to retrieve the bodies of Sviat and Socrates. They put me in a sleeping bag and dragged me out of there. We had time to chat while they carried me. Great guys, actually.
So as they were carrying me, everything was fine and I thought I needed a little rest so I closed my eyes. One bloke, call sign Tiger, goes: “Hey, don’t you die on us!” I told him I wasn’t dying or anything: “I've been in these bushes for four days already, may I have some sleep for God’s sake?” “No, no, you’ll have a good rest once you’re in a hospital,” he answered. So all’s good, we keep joking around, they keep on carrying me, send a man forward, to the positions of the 128th, to get some help to carry me. After a while, two guys from my 128th walk out of the bushes. And they are like, “It’s Finn, he’s alive!”. It was Doc and Pole – I know them both as we were on one team once (Doc is a doctor). They said they thought I got killed. “Is it you who everyone’s looking for?” they asked me.
I go: “I don't know, I hope it’s me, I would really like to be that guy.” And then they cut my uniform, apologizing for having to do so. I say: “Go ahead, everything’s fine.” So he cuts the uniform to see my stomach and I look at it and see that my whole body is covered in blood, which has already thickened and looks like some old rust.
He puts a bandage on my shoulder, then some pressure bandage, then puts me onto a stretcher, the soft one, covering me with a thermal blanket. I'm like, “Yess!”
They were further bandaging me in the medevac vehicle, and one older dude said to me: “You’re cooler than that guy Zhuravel...” Zhuravel was a Ukrainian scout who was trying to survive in the enemy zone after being wounded, that was back in 2019… Unfortunately, he didn’t make it.
They brought me to Yakovlivka. We had initially headed out of this settlement. There I saw Lera, an older woman with whom we constantly crossed paths.
She wept, speaking to me: “Son, you’re alive!” “I am, yes,” I told her. She rushes to get me into another car so we drive off and she’s sitting next to me, saying: “Everything will be fine, hold on.” She was holding my healthy arm all the way. I asked her: “What about Socrates?” “He’s gone,” she told me. “And what about Azovchyk?” I asked. “Azovchik is alive. Don't worry, everything’s fine,” she said. I'm like, well, thank God at least Azovchyk has made it, so it’s good. So as we drive on, I can hear incoming shelling, everything is pounding… It was actually some heavy fire. Then they put me into another car, then into another one. I was already dozing a little there, the battalion chief doc had already given me a drip. He knew I had a pneumothorax so he put a decompression needle in my left lung, asking me if it made it easier to breathe. I couldn’t tell, although I was supposed to feel the effect right away. The lung was supposed to be filled back with air as it had all come out. Then my men Kotyara and Bagram saw me and hopped in. Bagram took his phone and made a call, switching on a speaker: “Talk, this is your wife.” It was hard to hear her crying. At first I was saying something to her but she just cried all the way. I honestly can’t imagine what she’s gone through, what she’s been told. They say I've been buried three times already, like two times I was declared KIA, then status was reversed, then all the same again: KIA – not KIA. And then someone told her I’d been definitely killed. So she cries, I cry, and I see Bagram take off his hat to cover me so that no one can see me cry. Then he calls my mother, I tell my mom that everything’s fine. What else can I say? I can hardly speak, no energy left in me, nothing. I just told her I was alive and being taken to a hospital. I already remember the next stage, when Bagram was standing over me in the hospital, saying: “You no longer have a hand.” I say: “I thought so.” I get back to my senses in Kramatorsk, where I’ve been transferred from Bakhmut. I'm lying in the ward, with catheters in, drainage from the right lung, fluid coming out. Nothing hurts, I wiggled a bit and asked a nurse for some water, so they put a tube in me. After a night in that hospital, they told me they’re taking me to Dnipro. On the 25th, I was evacuated. My hand and finger were amputated in Bakhmut. From the 25th to the 26th I spent the night in Kramatorsk. From Kramatorsk, on the 26th, I was transported to Dnipro, to the Mechnikov Hospital. I heard it was a great place. Once they brought me there, doctors were swarming around me like ants. They check my cardio, do an X-ray, and take the bandage off. And I could smell how my hand stinks even before they took all bandages off. The doctor looked at it and said it was gas gangrene, so they needed to do a reamputation. Had they not done it in time, I would have lost my whole hand.
Then I woke up in intensive care, where I was being prepared for surgery. I was very pleasantly surprised, everything is was so new and modern there. Everything was great. The nurse came to talk to me. She is an IDP, who fled a conflict area and took a job there at the hospital, adding that her daughter was working there, too. They brought me warm tea, and I remembered my glitches: “They didn’t give it to me back then, but now I’ll surely have it.” Then my boys rushed in, bringing some strawberries and bananas. I go: “It’s all great, guys, but how am I supposed to eat it? I'm all wrapped up like Frankenstein or some mummy.”
Reamputation was performed the same evening, so they took me to the IC unit again. And in the morning they set a sort of a bed table for me so I sat up to eat some porridge, putting a spoon between two fingers, my pinky and ring finger..
And then I look around and see my mom, wife, and uncle are standing there, sobbing. My uncle asks: “Why aren't you lying in your bed?” I tell them: “Why should I be? And my uncle goes, “I thought we would come here and see some jelly lying on a bed and weeping in a pillow. But you’re here eating well, you have already learned how to do it without those fingers...” I say: “It's okay, why cry? If I died, you would cry, yes, but here I'm alive, you see.” It was I who was offering them moral support. My uncle, my mother's younger brother – he is generally a pessimistic guy, so he says: “Man, don't get sour, hold on.” And I reply: “Serhiy, don't get sour, hold on…”
I always wanted to join the military. And I also knew that, if I survived, I would not leave the Army. I graduated from the Academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Well, I was supposed to have my final exams this March. Then, on March 23, on my birthday, as we were barbequing, I got a text that read: “According to the Presidential Decree, due to martial law, all final exams shall be deemed as passed based on previous test results.” Oops, I say, it seems I’ve passed my exams.
But now that's it: my officer's career and that of a serious fighter are over. I’ll have to resign due to health reasons. I won’t be able to operate weapons; even if I get a hi-tec prosthetic, it won’t be right. I’d be a burden to my unit, which would be unacceptable. It’s the war, so there’s no time to deal with me. Later, if someone needs me, I think I’ll be able to retrain for another job. Future can hardly scare me because the main thing is that I have my today and tomorrow.
When we went to meet Dmytro, his comrades-in-arms warned us that we shouldn’t be openly compassionate or empathetic because Finn can’t stand this In fact, this cost us no effort. As we were talking, Finn spoke of his "adventures" with a pinch of humor, spicing his story up as if he was recalling a Tarantino western movie script.
But this is a real-life modern-day western, which unfolded in the Donbas steppes during the Russo-Ukrainian war. Its plot is actually more twisted than any movie director could come up with. Who knows, perhaps one day, someone from the movie industry will find their inspiration in Finn’s story.
We laughed along with our interviewee, although we well understood that behind this self-irony is an incredible story of human survival. Survival of a Ukrainian driven by dignity. As we were wrapping up, Dmytro easily picked up a bag of cherries we gave him, and we didn't even offer him any help, because why, right?... After all, the man would eat with no assistance 24 hours into his reamputation. At the doorstep, we take some time to discuss his plans for the medium term and offer some advice for the long term. And we understand quite well that everything will be fine with this red-haired Ukrainian, Dmytro “Finn” Finashyn, who has gone through so much already. Neither he nor we have any doubts about it.
Oksana Klymonchuk, Lana Samokhvalova, Kyiv
You can help Dmytro save up for prosthetic arms. Details for money transfer: Card No. 5375411501243203 Recipient: Iryna Finashyna (Dmytro's wife)
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