Scramble to treat wounded at last Ukraine frontline hospital
A constant stream of ambulances, lorries and civilian cars screeches to a halt outside the last working hospital in this area of the Ukrainian frontline, delivering a growing number of those wounded in intense clashes.
The injured arriving at the hospital in the Ukrainian-controlled town of Artemivsk come from villages and towns along the only passable road that runs to Debaltseve, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) away.
In the area around Debaltseve, fierce fighting is raging between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels.
A woman of around 30 -- her face covered in blood -- has been brought in by Ukrainian soldiers.
"They were firing at us with heavy artillery on the road between Debaltseve and Artemivsk," says a serviceman from the Ukrainian army's 25th airborne brigade.
"Along the way we picked up this woman who was injured by shrapnel as she was evacuating her family. We bought her here to the hospital," he told AFP.
As fighting has intensified dramatically over recent days -- especially around the key transport hub of Debaltseve -- the hospital has seen a soaring number of injured arrive.
The facility -- a yellow and blue Ukrainian flag fluttering outside the entrance -- is the only working hospital in this area of the frontline after two others were destroyed by fighting in nearby towns.
"These past three days we have brought in 72, 48 and 52 wounded respectively. And I am only talking about my group," says Kavkaz, a volunteer ambulance driver with Ukraine's National Guard.
In order to keep up with the influx of injured patients, the army has drafted in extra doctors from Kiev and the western city of Lviv.
"We have almost entirely stopped carrying out scheduled operations here," says exhausted doctor Andriy Lupayno.
"We are only doing emergency surgery now. This has become a military hospital," says Lupyano, 32.
"We have never seen such a large influx."
In the harried conditions, medics are just trying to save those in the most serious condition. Once a patient has been stabilised "they are evacuated to somewhere else," he says, mainly the neighbouring Kharkiv region.
- Hospitals destroyed -
For now the hospital is just about managing to deal with the swelling flow of wounded thanks to the reinforcements coming in from around the country.
But surgeon Lupyano says that he fears the facility could become a target if the fighting draws closer.
"The hospitals in Debaltseve and Svitlodarsk have been destroyed and we are scared that ours could also be hit," he says.
"For now, it is the hospital that is treating people in this whole area of the frontline. We want it to be protected."
At the exit of the emergency ward the intensity of the fighting is visible in the faces of the soldiers bringing in the injured.
Some crouch down and begin to sob, others smoke a quick cigarette with a haggard expression.
The Russian-backed rebel fighters are advancing through the area -- some 50 kilometres north-east of their stronghold Donetsk -- village by village.
The threat that they could surround Ukrainian forces in Debaltseve -- which once had a population of some 25,000 -- is growing by the day.
Lying injured, Ukrainian soldier Oleg Kirashuk says he has been fighting for six months in the east but never felt so close to dying as recently.
"The past few days I was praying," he says. "At least five times I believed that the end had come."
"They were firing from everywhere, we were encircled," Kirashuk, 42, says of the fighting in the town of Vuglegirsk, some 10 kilometres east of Debaltseve.
"The other side is very well-equipped."
After he was wounded, Kirashuk decided to try to get away on foot as he figured that ambulances could no longer reach him.
"I started walking until I reached one of our checkpoints," he says. "To begin with they didn't believe my story but they checked my documents and brought me to the hospital."
Not all of Kirashuk's comrades decided to leave. Some -- included the wounded -- remained at their posts.
"They are heros," he says.
© 2015 AFP