After treatment at US military hospital, volunteers for Ukraine return to fight
By Tori Hil | Oct 12, 2023
Oct 12 (Reuters) - After Russian drones dropped a mortar round and then a grenade on an American volunteer fighting for Ukraine, the former U.S. Marine thought he might lose use of his fingers.
Shrapnel hit the right leg and arm of the 28-year-old soldier, who asked to be identified by his call-sign "Jumbo." He needed hand surgery and Ukraine's overstretched medical system had only a bed in a cancer hospital available.
Then in August, U.S. nonprofit group RT Weatherman Foundation covered most of the cost for Jumbo and 12 other wounded foreign volunteers to be transported to Germany for treatment at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the United State's largest overseas military hospital. Within weeks after undergoing surgery to help restore feeling to his fingers, Jumbo was back in Ukraine.
He was among four foreign fighters treated at Landstuhl and interviewed by Reuters who were planning to return to Ukraine to support comrades and confront Russia.
"I didn't have a purpose before and this kind of gave me one again," said Jumbo, who joined the Ukrainian Army in February after feeling directionless once he left the Marines in 2021. He was wounded with 26 other volunteers in a July operation in southeast Ukraine. Two died.
U.S. military personnel and staff outside Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC), Germany, the largest U.S. military hospital outside the United States, which has begun treating groups of wounded foreign volunteers from the Ukrainian Army, in this undated handout picture. U.S. Military/Handout via REUTERS
David Bramlette, deputy director of operations for U.S. aid group RT Weatherman Foundation, who has organized the medical evacuation of wounded volunteer foreign fighters with the Ukrainian Army to a U.S. military hospital in Germany, in this undated handout picture. RT Weatherman Foundation/Handout via REUTERS
Nathan Chan, operations coordinator for U.S. aid group RT Weatherman Foundation, who has organized the medical evacuation of wounded volunteer foreign fighters with the Ukrainian Army to a U.S. military hospital in Germany, is seen in this undated handout picture. RT Weatherman Foundation/Handout via REUTERS
An ambulance operated by the Emergency Medical Center transports a wounded foreign volunteer with the Ukrainian Army from Ukraine to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany in an evacuation organized by U.S. aid group RT Weatherman in August 2023. RT Weatherman Foundation/Handout via REUTERS
US COMMITMENT TO UKRAINE
Treating the wounded volunteers at Landstuhl represents another level of U.S. commitment to Ukraine.
The Biden administration has had to turn to funds from a multi-billion dollar accounting error to support Kyiv after a stopgap spending bill passed by the House of Representatives to prevent a government shutdown excluded new Ukraine aid.
Thousands of foreign volunteers headed to Ukraine after Russia’s February 2022 invasion and are now fighting with regular Ukraine army units and a foreign legion.
Among them are hundreds of Americans, around 30 of whom have been killed, according to officials for aid groups Safe Passage 4 Ukraine and Weatherman.
Dozens of foreign volunteers are wounded each month, according to the four fighters interviewed by Reuters.
Safe Passage 4 Ukraine, which funds evacuation travel, in just one week paid for 14 injured foreign volunteers to fly home, said its co-founder Rachel Jamison.
Weatherman spent around $30,000 in September on evacuations and expected to spend the same again to get seven more cases to Landstuhl, said the group's president Meaghan Mobbs.
Of 20 Ukrainian Army patients admitted so far, nearly all since August, 16 have been foreign volunteers, according to Marcy Sanchez, a spokesman for the hospital.
British charity ReactAid said it set up permissioning procedures to evacuate foreign fighters from Ukraine and took one of the first foreign volunteers to Landstuhl in July.
The hospital was authorized a year ago to allocate 18 of its 65 beds to Ukrainian Armed Forces, but few soldiers arrived before August.
"The bureaucracy is just horrendous," said Craig Borthwick, lead medic for ReactAid, explaining the many layers of military, medical and government authorizations required.
David Bramlette and Nathan Chan, coordinators for RT Weatherman, said their close ties with army units and doctors helped them gain permission for Landstuhl transfers. Both are former volunteer fighters.
"There's an element of triage we have to do here, we're not going to take everybody," said Bramlette, a former U.S. Army Ranger and Green Beret, who visits volunteers in hospitals to advocate for their treatment and ease their isolation.
Reporting By Andrew Hay, additional reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Donna Bryson and Diane Craft
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