They are in the front line after Ukraine. The Baltic countries often criticize Western countries for their lack of commitment against the Russians. On the ground, the criticisms are the same from the volunteers from Latvia. Meeting with Sarmite, nurse on the Bakhmout front.
Sarmite, a Latvian nurse who joined the Ukrainian army. (AFP)
“I was sitting in transport going to work. I was watching the latest news, and when I saw that they were bombing hospitals, that they were killing other caregivers and patients, I thought to myself that this was too much and I had to go to Ukraine.” The scene takes place on February 24, 2022, in Riga. On the first day of the Russian aggression, it only takes Sarmite a few seconds to make his decision. “It was Putin who decided me,” she says. Seven months later, on September 24, the nurse left Latvia, heading for Ukraine, and still hasn’t left.
“Originally I thought I would come as a volunteer doctor, do my job and then, after several weeks, come back home. But they told me that I was too precious and that I had to join the Ukrainian army,” says Sarmite. She is now in charge of an infirmary, on the Bakhmout front, where the fighting is most violent, with hundreds of medicines that she has sorted and ordered herself.
“I stand alongside the Ukrainian soldiers to protect myself”
What motivated her, in addition to seeing hospitals bombed, was also the situation in the Baltic countries where she comes from. After Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and their neighbors are on the front line. So if Sarmite came to fight for Ukraine, her commitment, like that of several volunteers from her battalion, goes beyond this simple framework. “If the situation is not good for Ukraine, it is not good for us either. For years, Poland and the Baltic states have warned Western countries about Russia and Putin”, recalls Sarmite, according to whom the West “did not take us seriously”.
“Western countries were telling us that we were victims of post-traumatic stress because of the Soviet Union. The result is that they did nothing except put in place some sanctions.”
“This is one of the reasons why I am here alongside the Ukrainian soldiers, continues the nurse. So that they stay alive. They can then continue to protect their country, and to protect me.” And if necessary, she will stay “until the end of the war”, she assures. For now, it is anyway “impossible” for her to go home and “wonder every day what happens to the soldiers [that she] treats”.