Technological Advances That Could Save Lives In Ukraine
Story Stream
recent articles

“Fifty percent  of the soldiers wounded on the front lines will die before they have access to the medical care that could save their lives,” according to Igor Dobrovolskyi, an architect who works to meet the medical needs of Ukrainian soldiers.   

Fortunately, he and a group of Ukrainian and French volunteers have discovered an ingenious way to improve these odds. They’ve created “STABNET,” a mobile medical unit designed to stabilize injured soldiers who are close to the front lines.

To understand why it’s needed, take a typical case where it could save a life. Let’s imagine we’re on the front lines in Donetsk, and a Russian howitzer has just fired a fragmentation shell, targeting a position 15 miles away where several Ukrainian soldiers are believed to be located. The shell will fragment on impact, unleashing potentially fatal shrapnel in an area the size of an American football field.

A young Ukrainian soldier (we’ll call him Oleksiy) is unfortunately within the radius of where the shell hits. A razor-sharp piece of shrapnel, smaller than a smartphone and with jagged edges, hurtles toward him at high velocity. It slashes into his leg just above the knee, cutting into his femur and grazing his femoral artery.

At this point, Oleksiy is up against the unnerving statistic mentioned earlier: he has a 50% chance of survival. According to Dobrovolskyi, there are several reasons for this:

  • It may be many hours before medical help reaches him. Russian drones deliberately target Ukrainian ambulances. To protect themselves from drone attacks, these ambulances generally move only after nightfall. Oleksiy may not get the medical care he needs until it’s too late.
  • A casualty evacuation team in a pickup truck may be able to remove him from the front line, but team members aren’t equipped to provide sophisticated medical care. Oleksiy may end up traveling in the trunk of a pickup for 20 miles before he reaches the medical care he needs.
  • When he does reach medical care, it may be located, for example, in a basement of a ruined building. During his travel or while in the building, he is likely to be exposed to bacteria such as the kind causing "gas gangrene.” If he gets this infection, and if he doesn’t receive antibiotics and other medical intervention quickly, his odds of survival will be slim. Even if he survives, he could lose his leg.

That’s the current state of what’s going on the Ukrainian front lines.

Fortunately, Dobrovolskyi is working with his French colleagues from the Association of Ukrainian Women in France (AFUF) to create a new system that bypasses all these obstacles. During a Zoom call from Kyiv, Doborvolsky explained how their invention works.

“The STABNET vehicle,” he says, “is a mobile container designed to help wounded soldiers survive until they reach the advanced medical care they need.”  The source of that care may be many miles from the front line.

The STABNET itself is about 15 feet long and 7 feet wide and contains more than $100,000 worth of medical equipment. “The French team obtains donated equipment at a small fraction of its actual cost,” says a pleased Doborvolskyi.

An individual unit may be able to treat and stabilize as many as four soldiers an hour. An important feature is that the interior is designed to be as sterile as possible.

Another important feature of the medical container is, unlike an ambulance, it has no motor, so a jeep or any four-wheel drive vehicle can tow it practically anywhere along the battle-scarred roads.

Yet another advantage is, it can be towed into a garage or factory, safe from drones. “The best protection is to use it inside buildings, like a large garage or industrial building,” points out Dobrovolskyi. “When it’s inside a building the Russian drones can’t see it, and our medical teams can easily move it during the night to where they know it will be most needed.”

As Dobrovolskyi says “We have a prototype that’s being tested right now on the front lines. It would have been nice to do more testing before the deployment, but with a war going on, our army needs these lifesaving units yesterday.” He adds, “We are expecting to have five more in operation by the end of April and an additional five by the end of May.” A unit costs just under $50,000, and fortunately, the money for these initial ones has come from the US-based charity, Razom for Ukraine. Dobrovolskyi and the STABNET team say they would love to be in contact with additional charity and medical organizations that can contribute funds or medical equipment and supplies to outfit the 100 STABNET vehicles that he hopes to see in action this year. Ukraine's innovative approach to battlefield medicine, embodied by the STABNET system, promises a brighter future for soldiers on the front lines. It sets a new global benchmark for medical response during conflict. 

War correspondent Mitzi Perdue has visited Ukraine three times in the last year.  She is a landmine clearance advocate, businesswoman, author, and anti-human trafficking advocate. She holds a B.A. degree with honors from Harvard University and a Master's from George Washington University.

Show comments Hide Comments