Ukrainian firefighters adjust to life responding to Russian military rocket attacks


Ukrainian firefighters had the protocols, experience and kit to deal with any fire they encountered. When the war with Russia broke out, everything changed.

As high-rise buildings were hit and neighborhoods were bombed, they had to figure out which of multiple burning homes to prioritize, who to rescue first, and then how to tackle a factory fire miles away. distance at the same time.

“When you walk in and you see six or seven apartments burning at once and you don’t know where some people are and you only have three trucks… [it is] the lucky lottery where you have to place your troops,” says Roman Kachanov, chief of a fire station in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

Explaining the complications of managing many fires at once and having to quickly change orders for his team, he says: “You have already done all the work and you need to change it immediately. It makes things worse.

The consequences of a bombardment on a school in Kharkiv


Injured person is rescued from bombed apartments


He adds: “It’s like the environment in Iraq or Afghanistan… you don’t know what happened – they just bombed one place, we don’t know they will bomb again?

Kharkiv, which sits near the Russian border in northeastern Ukraine, has been battered by rockets and shells almost daily for the past six months except for a lull in June.

Russia, which invaded Ukraine on February 24, denies Kyiv’s accusation that it deliberately targets civilians in what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation“.


Evgeny Vasylenko, press secretary of Ukraine’s National Emergency Service in the Kharkiv region, says firefighters must extinguish fires during repeated shelling or shelling. They now wear helmets and bulletproof vests, adding around 20kg to the weight of their usual gear, he said.

Fire chief Roman Kachanov video chats with his wife and child who fled to Germany


Margarita peeks through blackout curtains


“Before the war started and after it, putting out fires is very different,” he says.

In a statement in early August, he said that since the start of the war, fire crews in the area had brought 1,700 fires resulting from bombing under control.

He said three firefighters died in the area and around 30 firefighters were injured.

Firefighters are being given extra cash for the risk and work schedules have been rearranged to try to ensure crews are resting. Between calls, as they would have done before February, firefighters train, practice, play cards together, phone loved ones or simply sleep.

Exhausted: firefighters Dima and Nikolay take a break


Alexandr speaks on the phone during downtime between calls to his fire station


Even if after months of war, it’s never enough. “I’m mentally and physically exhausted,” says Kachanov.

For the 33-year-old, the worst part of his role has been seeing dead children or children who have lost their parents.

“When you see the dead children, it’s bad. It brings tears to my eyes,” he says.

He remembers things he never thought he would experience. Recalling one such occasion, he said, “I don’t know how old the kid was, the boy was probably eight or nine, he was just fine. He had shrapnel, some on him, but his mother and father were dead and he was crying.

Kachanov briefs his team during an exercise


Firefighters respond to a nighttime emergency


His own daughter, seven-year-old Violetta, is in Germany with his wife Marina. “They have a wonderful family who took them in and everything is fine with them and I’m glad they’re safe.”

Many days he is too busy to think or answer his wife’s calls. But he misses them.

“It’s when you go to sleep after work,” he says. “I would like to kiss them. I used to tell my girlfriend a story every night.

Where they stay in Germany, they have a “wonderful house” and a swimming pool, he says. He says he said to Violetta when they were talking: “Enjoy it and forget about dad while enjoying it. Enjoy and we’ll talk, we’re still here, we’re still in touch, so it’s all good.


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