240 Ukrainian soldiers have got treatment in Latvia

Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Latvian hospitals and medical centers have so far helped around 240 wounded Ukrainian soldiers, of whom around 40 are currently receiving treatment, the charity project "M-Help", which helps bring injured Ukrainian soldiers to Latvia,  told Latvian Radio February 24.

Many of the victims are receiving psychological rehabilitation, among them a soldier with the nickname Gerda.

"We were imprisoned in May 2022. Guns were fired at the bunker. Two women were injured and died on top of me. I still don't understand how I managed to stay alive in that situation," says Gerda.

The people of Ukraine are still in need of practical help, which is why Latvian public media, in cooperation with Ziedot.lv, are calling for donations to buy acutely needed items.

Azov soldier Gerda suffered a head and knee injury while defending Mariupol, but received medical treatment only a year later. Two weeks after her injury, the Ukrainian army commander-in-chief told the Azov fighters to surrender, and Gerda was taken into captivity with other soldiers, where she spent a year.

"I never thought this would happen in my life. We were held captive with all possible violations. We had no access to information. International doctors were not allowed in, the Red Cross only once. I also experienced all the "pleasures", so to speak - physical abuse, torture during interrogation, which was also just for fun," recalls Gerda.

Last May, Russia exchanged prisoners of war with Ukraine. Gerda was among them and was admitted to the hospital, where she was examined and underwent surgery. In December, Gerda arrived in Latvia, where she is being rehabilitated at the State Agency for Social Integration after a painful and psychologically difficult experience. There she receives soothing treatments, massages, water aerobics, and works with a psychologist.

Gerda says that the most important thing for soldiers is to be safe after being in captivity: 

"Captivity, and before that the three-month siege and regular shelling, have caused post-traumatic stress disorder, which many of us have and which does not go away so quickly and easily. It needs to be worked on. Of course, there are also sleep problems. Psychological rehabilitation helps to switch the focus. When a person is under stress, especially on the front, it is very necessary to be calm for a while.

"There are studies that show that rehabilitation prevents the development of chronic diseases. If you look at statistics from the US, a lot of war veterans commit suicide sometime after the war, so psychological rehabilitation is very important for soldiers."

Gerda is one of around 240 Ukrainian soldiers who have been receiving treatment and rehabilitation in Latvia since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Currently, 40 soldiers are receiving assistance in the country. Arvis Rekets, the organizer of the M-Help charity project, points out that the wounded in Latvia receive treatment at Gaiļezers and Stradiņš hospitals, the Traumatology and Orthopaedics Hospital, the Vaivari rehabilitation center and the medical center of the State Agency for Social Integration, where Gerda also receives help.

"People come through the Ukrainian Ministry of Health. We have two medical buses. These are buses equipped with all the equipment necessary for life and professional medics on the way. The very long journeys on the bus can be done lying down or sitting down. In circumstances where flying over Ukraine is not possible, but thousands of kilometers have to be covered, it is the best option," says Rekets.

Buses with injured Ukrainian soldiers arrive in Latvia once a month.

Of the 240 or so wounded that Latvia has received so far, more than half have been treated for about a month, but others have stayed for up to a year.

"At the very beginning of the war, the flow may have been much higher, but now it has stabilized. We are taking the number of people that Latvia can reasonably take with its resources. Other countries take very large numbers - the Netherlands, Denmark, the US, Israel," Rekets says.

After the soldiers recover, the project is helping to bring them back to Ukraine. Gerda plans to return in mid-March.

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