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From Kaua‘i to Ukraine: Reflecting on a month at war

LIHU‘E — Dr. Allon Amitai arrived in Kyiv, Ukraine, in early February — hoping to deliver a lecture and reclaim a stolen ambulance.

The Kaua‘i medic had been volunteering on a roadside west of Bakhmut, Ukraine, for the previous two weeks, where he assisted with the stabilization and evacuation of injured Ukrainians near the front lines.

After the position was shelled twice, the Global Outreach Doctors volunteer team reevaluated, planning to set up a new casualty collection point farther from the range of Russian artillery.

As the team worked to established a new position, Amitai traveled to the capitol city, where he met with a disgruntled former Global Outreach Doctors team leader to negotiate the return of a stolen ambulance.

The former team leader had left the organization on bad terms, and in the Wild West of Ukrainian war zone, had then purloined two of the team’s ambulances.

The ambulance was vital for the organization, which was now down to only one damaged vehicle with about 300,000 miles on it. An initial shipment of about a dozen beat-up ambulances had been steadily whittled down through wear-and-tear and accidents, including one wreck that occurred during Amitai’s first week on the job.

Amitai said the former leader was the sort of person who had “James Bond fantasies,” and like in a Bond movie, the pair met at one of the city’s fanciest restaurants. There, they splurged on $50 gold leaf hamburgers and caviar before heading to a near-empty casino where the man proceeded to lose about $1,000 in half an hour playing poker.

Amitai then made his play for the ambulance.

“I told him that from a legal point of view, if it went to trial — and apparently there’s threats of lawsuits — it’d be better if he made a goodwill gesture of returning the ambulance,” said Amitai.

It worked, and the man agreed to return one of the vehicles (the other was now not drivable).

Days later, still in Kyiv, Amitai began to receive messages on his signal chat. His team had been attacked while evacuating injured civilians in Bakhmut. Details were sparse at first.

Hours before he was set to deliver a lecture, he learned the team had been hit with a laser-guided missile and their current leader, American medic Pete Reed, had been killed. Other members of the team had suffered minor flesh wounds, a broken leg, and blown out eardrums.

Amitai delivered the lecture as scheduled, and then drove the stolen ambulance eight hours through a heavy snowstorm to visit his comrades in the hospital.

Remembering Pete Reed

Reed’s death became international news, and ended Amitai’s mission in the country.

Amitai first met the well-liked team leader in Krakow, Poland, en route to Ukraine, where the pair grabbed late night cheeseburgers. (In what may have been an inauspicious sign, he found himself vomiting hours later).

He described the 33-year-old medic as a bit of a clown, who made goofy faces in photos and brought a portable Playstation console to the war zone.

“He was also very well organized and seemed to have a pretty in-depth understanding of what it took to improvise an emergency medical aid station in a conflict zone,” said Amitai.

Reed was one of many colorful characters drawn to the war — from an Onlyfans model to a family of Amish to a 60-year-old Austrailian semi-professional hang glider to a Canadian medic nicknamed “Scotch,” who has been hopping from war zone to war zone since she was 19.

Amitai said the reasons people traveled to the front varied.

“Certainly some of it is being very principled, and feeling that the cause is just and that if you’re in a position where you can do something about it, you really should,” said Amitai. “There’s probably other things that motivate people as well, like adrenaline rush, or having deep connections to your comrades, which has classically been what keeps soldiers going.”

He recalled a conversation with Scotch shortly before she was set to leave on what she considered a “suicide mission” — where her team would attack a fortified enemy position through a minefield.

“She said, ‘If I don’t do it, then someone else is going to have to do it, and they’ll die, and I can’t have it on my conscience that someone else died when I could have prevented it,’” said Amitai.

The mission was ultimately canceled, and Scotch is now on leave in Poland.

There and back again

Now back on Kaua‘i working at Wilcox Medical Center, Amitai reflected on his month of service.

“It shows you how life and death can be really random,” he said. “If you’re in Russian artillery range you can be killed by a lucky shell or guided missile or snipers if they’re close enough. It makes you appreciate life more.”

He thought back fondly on dinner parties, snowball fights and practical jokes his team would play in their downtime. Once, he recalled, he had distracted Reed, so the rest of the team could pummel him with snowballs.

“To be honest, I enjoyed a lot of it. It probably sounds horrible to say that you enjoy going to a war zone, but I had some good times with people when we weren’t in the thick of it. It was rewarding to stabilize and help out people who were injured,” he said. “And the Ukrainians seem to really enjoy our company, knowing that the rest of the world cares about them and didn’t abandon them.”


Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-0329 or
Source: The Garden Island

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