Disabled Ukraine fighters hanker for return to front


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Picture taken on April 2, 2015, shows a wounded pro-Russian rebel lying in a bed in Donetsk hospital Picture taken on April 2, 2015, shows a wounded pro-Russian rebel lying in a bed in Donetsk hospital


Parts of their bodies burnt to a putrid pulp, separatist rebels mutilated in a year of conflict between pro- and anti-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine lie in their hospital beds still hankering to return to the front.
Georgi Ganzii, who suffered severe burning to his lower back and buttocks, is awaiting a prosthesis for a leg maimed in what he says was "a booby-trapped grenade attack" on February 13.
But the 39-year-old, whose haggard face peers out from under sheets in Donetsk hospital, remains determined to return to the front to defend "our land", despite the painkillers stacked up on the bedside table.
"I signed up last year on February 23. I fought in Crimea, in Mariupol and now here. I hate 'the Nazis'", he adds, referring to claims by the separatists that the government in Kiev is stacked with the kind of right wing Ukraine nationalists that fought with the Nazis in World War II.
The shaven headed, tattooed former metal-worker said he had been "touched" by what happened last year in Odessa, eastern Ukraine, where 40 people, most of them pro-Russian activists, were burnt alive after clashes with pro-Ukrainian activists.
Likewise he was upset by incidents in the majority Russian-speaking port of Mariupol where he claimed Ukrainian army soldiers fired on civilians.
Injured in Spartak, near the once state-of-the-art now flattened Donetsk airport, just 48 hours before a ceasefire was reached in the Belarussian city of Minsk, he is one of the last fighters disabled in a conflict that has left 6,000 dead and ravaged Ukraine's economy.
Yet he has little faith the fighting is over. "The ceasefire?," he shrugs dismissively. "It's worthless. The Ukrainian army's taking advantage of the truce to reinforce its positions.
"I regret I was injured but the fighting will continue and I want to be there," he adds, as he lies in a ward he shares with a rebel whose leg has been amputated and who lies covered in blood-soaked bandages like a horror film mummy.
'Impatient to get better'
In a separate ward for burn victims where an acrid smell wafts through green corridors hung with Orthodox icons, 28-year-old Pavel morosely inspects patches of burnt cracked skin and open sores on his puffy legs.

Picture taken on March 26, 2015, shows a destroyed T-72 tank on a road near the village of Lohvynove near the eastern Ukrainian town of Debaltseve.
"It happened on the morning of December 15. There was fog, I was in a tank, and then I don't remember. I woke up here," says the young man who doesn't give his family name.
"I don't regret anything. This is our land and we have to defend it."
"My house in Ilovaysk was destroyed by the Ukrainians. They're the ones who started" the conflict, adds the former construction worker.
Asked how he sees his future, Pavel smiles and says: "Time will tell."
Chief nurse Nina Yermolaeva says her patients all have one thing in common: "They're impatient to get better, much more than others. And they're all optimists."
When a psychologist from the international health NGO, Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World), came along and offered counselling, they all turned him down, Nina said.
"They just didn't need him!" she added.
Sitting behind a desk with a porcelain owl atop, Emile Fistal, who heads the emergency plastic surgery institute that runs the ward for burn victims, says the doctors treat "all injured combatants".
They include separatists, Ukrainian soldiers, Russian volunteers fighting alongside the rebels, and even Poles who signed up for combat with the regular Ukrainian army.
"I haven't had any Russian soldiers," he added.

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