By Anastasia Ringis, Halyna Tytysh, UP [Ukrayinska Pravda]
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine
Ihor Ilkiv, Chief Medical Officer of the Second Battalion of the National Guard, talks about what makes the Battalion tick.
The Second Battalion, which was formed in April  from 300 volunteers and underwent training at a shooting range near Kyiv, is leaving for Donbas today.
UP.Life met with the chief physician of the Battalion, Ihor Ilkiv, to question him about how well-equipped the medical unit is.
Ilkiv is a military doctor. He served in conflicts in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. During Maidan in 2014, Ihor Ilkiv was the chief medic at the October Palace.
Enough legends circulate about him. They tell how he negotiated with the leadership of the Berkut [former riot police units] and drew captives out of the [burning] building.
And on February 20, he broke through a Berkut cordon in an ambulance. They shouted after him many times, “Stop! We will shoot!”
Ilkiv knows what to shout back. He has nerves of steel.
The doctor is not only able to quickly assist other physicians, but he knows how to build a medical support system in a hotspot.
–What, today, is the biggest problem in the medical unit of the National Guard?
–When we sent off the First Battalion in April, there were problems with the staff. This battalion was accompanied by only three medical personnel: one of them a doctor, and two were volunteers that we trained on the job.
Later, we beefed up the First Battalion with [another] physician and a auxiliary nurse. Now the medical service accompanying the Second Battalion is composed of 27 people: four physicians and three nurses, and there are auxiliary nurses in each unit who know how to provide [medical] assistance on the battlefield and bear out the wounded.
The system is built as military conditions demand. We are able to quickly deploy a military hospital, if circumstances require it.
Our main problem is the lack of ambulances. We need at minimum two vehicles. The First Battalion uses a vehicle provided by volunteers. But this isn’t enough.
We have repeatedly appealed to the Ministry of Health to address this issue. But the Health Ministry doesn’t have such powers, since the National Guard is subordinate to the Interior Ministry.
Currently, there are 70 ambulances in service with the Ministry of Health that they could pass along to us through the Interior Ministry. [Former Health Minister Raisa Bohatyriova] was supposed to send these vehicles, but for some reason nothing has been done while people are dying because there is no transportation.
–Can you compare the composition of the First and Second battalions? Who makes up the backbone of the battalion?
–The First Battalion was created at the beginning of March. At that time, people were tired, sick, and weakened after Maidan with different traumas and the effects of different injuries that had not healed.
Two [servicemen] were operated on after a medical exam, and three were sent to the reserve. Five mentally unstable [servicemen] left of their own volition. Upon departure, 12 servicemen remained.
The majority of the First Battalion was composed of people who went through Maidan. However, there were also conscripts and police officers who stood on the other side of the barricades. Because of this, there were confrontations and fights. They insulted our female medics. But we even got them to publicly apologize. So, on balance, we filled out [the Battalion] with subdivisions from a Tank Brigade, airborne troops, Alpha [anti-terrorist unit] and Berkut [former riot police]. And the antagonisms were smoothed out. Now, of course, a common enemy has united them.
Although there was one case. Two people from the First Battalion switched to the separatists’ side. One, quite honestly, came back under pressure from his relatives, and the second one is now fighting for money.
As for the Second Battalion, it’s more prepared. A quarter of the volunteers have been in combat before. 280 people have served, and we’ve got everyone from warrant officers to colonels.
Many servicemen in the Second Battalion have a military specialization. Their training was more intense in shooting and warfare tactics. So we can consider this an operational battalion.
–What is the societal portrait of a volunteer soldier?
–The average age is about 30-35 years old. All are from different parts of Ukraine. It’s impossible to say whether Kyiv or Lviv leads in the numbers. The guys have different professions and education. There are even [computer] programmers.
–We have been contacted by volunteers of the Second Battalion who complained that there haven’t been enough uniforms and no protection whatsoever. My colleagues and I calculated that a uniform for one soldier costs about 25,000 hryvnias [US $2,119] ([which includes] bulletproof vest, helmet, flashlight with night vision). We were told that many are being “dressed” by volunteers or relatives. How true is this?
–In reality, there isn’t enough money, and there aren’t enough bulletproof vests with Level IV protection for everyone either. However, we will be fully outfitted.
The Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian Parliament] seemingly allocated the funds for ammunition, but as far as I know, the money has gotten “hung up.” What saves us are the volunteers who helped us during Maidan. A church of the Kyiv Patriarchate presented our battalion with a Jeep last week.
We still have volunteers who bring medications. Recently they brought us six completely equipped medical kits and bought us stretchers. A Kharkiv entrepreneur bought us an ambulance as a gift, but now we have to wait until it is transferred to the ownership of the National Guard.
The help and support of volunteers is very important to us.
–How should assistance be delivered to you now?
–You can bring it to the National Guard training center. Also, the medical service of Maidan helps us collect assistance on Tryokhsvyatytelska Street, and then they will deliver it to us. Supplies leftover from Maidan–medications, equipment, devices–were already given to us.
Now we are leaving for Eastern Ukraine with about a week’s supply of medications. Everything else will be delivered to us later.
–What is the salary of National Guard soldiers?
–Officially it’s a measly 1,300 hryvnias [US $110]. But if a person works at a state-owned enterprise, then according to the law, the employee’s salary is saved during [military] service. The pensions are saved as well. When we go to the East, the earnings will rise.
But it’s clear that the servicemen are supported financially by families, friends, and private donors. Now comes the process of providing medical insurance for the soldiers. This is very important.
–In your opinion, what will happen to the National Guard in the future?
–As I understand it, the Interior Ministry will be transformed. Roughly speaking, there won’t be any more cops. Instead, there will be the one National Guard of Ukraine, which will report directly to the Verkhovna Rada.
Part of the current personnel of the National Guard will not stay with us for long, but some will stay to serve on a contractual basis.