“I was most afraid of dying in front of my children”: in the Donetsk region, the daughters and the father saved their mother, whose neck was pierced by a fragment of a shell

Neurosurgeons call the injury of Oksana Korneva from the Donetsk region miraculous: a fragment of Russian ammunition hit her in the neck, passed at a distance of 2 millimeters (!) from the carotid artery, miraculously not touching the larynx, thyroid gland and trachea. Despite the fact that the vital organs remain intact, the wound causes heavy bleeding. The bleeding had to be stopped as soon as possible to save the woman’s life. Her husband and minor daughters handled it. They treated Oksana, who was in a state of shock, by flashlight in the house that had just been hit by a Russian shell.

“I understood: if the carotid artery is injured, then I have a few seconds left to live”

— Our family lived in the Donetsk region in the small town of Siversk, Bakhmut region, – told “FACTAM” Oksana Korneva. — I worked as a paramedic at the Donetsk Regional Center for Emergency Medical Assistance and Disaster Medicine. By the way, it helped my people a lot to stop the bleeding when I was hurt. Because I often talked about my work at home.

When the great war began, we did not evacuate for the first two months, because my work was very necessary there, in the Donetsk region. March, April passed. My father also stayed at home – in the village of Verkhnokamyanskoe, which is located between Siversk and Lisichansk, Luhansk region. I was born and raised in this village. Dad asked us to come to him, hoping that in Verkhnyokamyansk we would be safer and help plant potatoes. He said that after the war it would be difficult financially, so we should plant potatoes.

We went to Verkhnyokamyansk, helped my father. From there they saw that our Siversk was in the smoke of fires. They decided that they would have to travel to another region of Ukraine. With this in mind they went to bed hoping to leave in the morning. But it didn’t happen as expected. At night (it was May 6) for the first time the Russians covered Verkhnokamyansk with artillery fire. At four o’clock in the morning a shell hit our house. The wall collapsed, the window flew out. My daughters slept near the windowsill and I slept closer to the middle of the room. The children were terribly scared, they had concussions. But then they didn’t pay much attention to him because I was very injured. I felt blood pulsing from my neck – massive bleeding. Dawn was just beginning. Everything was in smoke, thick dust hung from the destroyed building structures.

– So you’re unconscious?

“Yes, I didn’t lose consciousness at first.” To stop the bleeding, she pressed the artery with her finger (the ability to do this is very important for the doctor): she inserted her fingers into the wound on the right under the jaw. He felt the pulsation of the carotid artery on his index finger. I realized: if she is wounded, then I have a few seconds left to live.

Oksana shows where the debris fell. Author’s photo

– Where was your husband?

– In the next room – in the evening he went to sleep there. When the “arrival” happened, the man ran into our bedroom and rushed to get the kids out of there. One daughter screamed at the experience, while the other opened her mouth and remained silent. The man shouted to them: “Lie down on the floor!” I tell him: “Tolik, I’m injured.” And I keep my fingers on the carotid artery. She was most afraid of dying in front of her children. Anatoli took me to another room and placed me on the floor. And then I lost consciousness.

My husband and daughters then told me that they removed my blood-soaked clothes, caulked the wound, treated it with hydrogen peroxide, and bandaged it. I said to them: “You passed such a test in life! Life gave you even a 12 or higher. If I had the chance, I would even take you on my medical team. You see, the children did not panic, they worked in sync: the younger Vladislava took the lantern and held it so that it was visible how the wound was being treated. And the older Anichka helped her father.

When we later talked about these events, I told them, well done, you put on a lot of bandages. And they answered me: “Don’t you remember how I told you that a massive hemorrhage requires a lot of bandages. If there are none, sheets or other fabric that can be torn into bandages is used. With the first bandage, we tampon it deeply, tightly, and with the second “circle by circle” (your words), that is, with a flywheel.

“The children did not panic, they worked synchronously: the younger Vladislava took the lantern and held it so that you could see how the wound was being treated. And the older Anichka helped her father,” says Oksana.

“In Dnipro, a neurosurgeon said that only God’s intervention could explain the path of the fragment in my neck”

– How did you get to the hospital?

— My husband and daughters put me in our car (we call it “Zuzha”) and we drove under fire to the hospital in Bakhmut. The whole way I kept saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay,” reassuring myself and my family. When they reached the clinic, badly wounded soldiers from near Popasnaya were brought there. They did a digital x-ray. The image was displayed on the screen. The man photographed him and went up to the fourth floor to see a traumatologist. He said: “It’s not glass (we thought I was hit by glass from the window) but a metal fragment from a cluster munition. It went diagonally across the neck. It enters under the jaw on the right side, passes at a distance of 2 millimeters (!) from the carotid artery, miraculously not affecting the larynx, thyroid gland or trachea. Anchored in the third cervical vertebra. The size of the fragment is 11 by 7 millimeters (about the size of a nail plate).

My management was informed that I was injured. On May 7, I was taken to the Mechnikov Regional Hospital in Dnipropetrovsk by an air ambulance of the Donetsk Regional Center for Emergency Medical Assistance and Disaster Medicine. They did a tomogram there. After meeting her, the neurosurgeon said that God had saved me – only his intervention could explain the path of the debris in my neck.

I told the neurosurgeon that above my bed at home hangs a very old icon left over from my grandparents. After the Second World War, they were resettled in Donbass from western Ukraine, from the then Drogobitsk Oblast, during the infamous Operation Vizula (held in 1948-1952). Then the Stalinist regime gave Poland part of the lands on which Ukrainians lived, the local population was displaced.

Later I turned to a neurosurgeon from the Cherkasy Regional Hospital. He looked at the CT scan and asked, “When is your birthday?” — “The twenty-seventh of November.” — “No, May 6. I have never seen a case like yours.”

The fragment is lodged in the third cervical vertebra

“Did you need surgery?”

— Yes, this was done on May 9 in Dnipro at Mechnikov Hospital.

– Were you able to remove the fragment?

– Unfortunately no. This is practically impossible. It anchors in the body of the third cervical vertebra – directly in the bone. If you have surgery to remove it, you will need to compress the carotid artery for a while. And that will lead to a stroke. Therefore, the operation is impossible neither in Ukraine nor abroad. Hopefully the fragment will be encapsulated and won’t do much damage. As was the case, for example, with some of the World War II veterans who lived to a ripe old age. None of the doctors can predict how “my” fragment will behave. So you will need to get checked every year.

– Do you feel it?

– It hurts under my jaw and in the cervical spine.

– Until you get hurt he had a premonition that something was about to happen?

– Probably yes – on the eve of May 6, there was anxiety in my soul. And the husband had the same feeling. Also, then the crows flocked over our yard and “turned” their “car, car”. They usually gather in flocks in late autumn, in winter, croaking in the cold. And here it is May and they started their “song”. I did not like it.

– Where do you live now?

– We settled in Nizhin, Chernihiv region, we rent an apartment there – because my husband got a job in this city (he is a railway worker). The daughter was accepted to a music school. Recently, children and teachers held a charity concert in support of ZSU. The eldest daughter writes poems. She said to me, “Mom, I won’t be able to recite – it will be very difficult for me emotionally.” Therefore, the host of the concert read Anya’s poem about the war. And then the military chaplain took the floor. Perhaps he was preparing another speech. But when Anya was introduced, they said that she was a forced migrant from the city of Siversk, Bakhmut region, Donetsk region, the priest approached her (the woman was sitting in the first row) and said: “Honey, we recently returned from there. Your hometown is gone.” Donna turned 14 in August, she follows the news. But the phrase shook her. The priest added: “We will overcome and restore it.”

When I enrolled my children in a music school in Nizhyn, the principal said: “Thank you for your Ukrainian. In Nizhyn, many people speak Surzhik.” Almost everyone speaks Ukrainian in Verkhnyokamyansk and in neighboring Zvanivka, Pereyzno and Rozdolivka. These are immigrants from Western Ukraine. In our village, people are hardworking. The houses were beautiful, well kept with flowers in the yards. All had large gardens, almost every family looked after livestock. We have Greek Catholic churches. People greet each other: “Glory to Jesus Christ.” In Nizhyn I found a Greek Catholic church and entered. The service of God, the singing of the church choir touched me a lot. By the way, my mother sang in the church choir and I attended Sunday school as a child.

Almost everyone left our village at the beginning of the great war – they understood that if the racists came, they would kill the people.

“Did your father manage to evacuate?”

— Yes, he is now with his brother in Cherkasy.

Oksana Korniyeva testified about the circumstances of her injury to the lawyers of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union for Human Rights.

— Russia left the Council of Europe and announced that the decision of the European Court of Human Rights does not apply to it, she explained Olena Kuvayeva, lawyer at the Center for Strategic Issues of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union for Human Rights. – But all human rights violations committed by Russia before September 15, 2022 are subject to the European Convention on Human Rights. Therefore, we have the right to appeal to the ECHR the crimes committed by the Russian military before that date. The decisions of this court carry great weight in the world. Contacting him opens up a chance for compensation.

Earlier, “FACTS” told about an extremely complex and unique operation performed at the capital’s Cardiology Institute – a soldier had a fragment of a mine removed from his heart, which continued to beat during the intervention.

Read more: “The Russians shot up the parents’ car. My mother died, I alone operated on my wounded father”: the story of a Buchi doctor who saves displaced persons

Photo courtesy of Oksana Korneva


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