Patriot Defence: Developing combat first aid training in Ukraine

Alexandra Stadnyk, Toronto.

Dr. Ulana Suprun, Director of humanitarian initiatives of the Ukrainian World Congress, and her team of volunteer instructors are working on developing Ukraine’s combat first aid standards.

Since May 2014, Dr. Suprun and her team have been teaching Ukrainian soldiers tactical medicine in eastern Ukraine as part of Patriot Defence, a humanitarian initiative of the Ukrainian World Congress. Patriot Defence has trained approximately 11,500 soldiers in adapted Combat Lifesaver (CLS) course and distributed 8,500 Individual First Aid Kits (IFAKs) that contain lifesaving medical supplies such as tourniquets, trauma dressing and chest seals, and cost $100.
“One in three soldiers deployed to the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) zone now has combat first aid training, something that was non-existent in Ukraine prior to the start of this program,” says Dr. Suprun.

“We began by handing out IFAKs, but the soldiers were coming to us and asking ‘What do I do with this?’.” She realized that Ukrainian soldiers were missing basic, but important, information that could save their life or their friend’s life.

The initial goal of Patriot Defence was to train 10,000 soldiers in adapted CLS and provide them with IFAKs. As Dr. Suprun and her team marked this milestone last month, they don’t plan on stopping now. She also wants to help the Ukrainian government develop and standardize tactical medicine in Ukraine.

She and a team of volunteer instructors from Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Czech Republic, as well as a team of Ukrainian instructors and translators, have been educating Ukrainian soldiers in adapted Combat Lifesaver (CLS), a course that meets NATO standards and teaches soldiers how to perform combat first aid in the battlefield. The extensive one-day training teaches soldiers how to perform medical care under fire, open and manage the airway, treat an open chest wound, collapsed lung, and tactically move a wounded soldier. Patriot Defence has also trained Ukrainian instructors in adapted CLS as well as long range patrol medics.

In January 2015, Dr. Suprun will be hosting an international conference on combat medicine in Ukraine. The conference, the first of its kind in Ukraine, titled “The Development, Standardization and Implementation of Tactical Medicine in Ukraine,” will take place January 19th – 21st in Kyiv and will be focused on discussing the current state of tactical medicine in Ukraine and trends around the world, and will include a trade show of Ukrainian and foreign tactical medicine products.
In countries like Canada and the United States soldiers receive combat first aid as part of basic training, but in Ukraine, where resources for such basics as boots and sleeping bags are scarce, first aid training is often an afterthought. As a result, the Patriot Defence initiative has played an important role in saving soldiers’ lives in the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) zone, where full-fledged fighting rages on.

Each week, Dr. Suprun and her team of combat first aid instructors conduct up to three training sessions throughout Ukraine. In an undisclosed location made to simulate the battlefield, they teach soldiers how to address the three main preventable causes of death on the battlefield: severe bleeding, collapsed lungs and blockage of the airway.

“Every day we get reports from the front line that the training provided through CLS and the IFAKs are saving soldiers’ lives,” says Dr. Suprun. Overall, they have received more than 100 positive testimonials.

Dr. Suprun recalls a young man who was wounded while in eastern Ukraine and returned to thank her. He showed her where shrapnel struck him in the back of the arm. He took off his t-shirt to show where the shrapnel entered and explained how he attended training and later shared his learnings with his friend who was able to save his life by applying the tourniquet that was in his IFAK to control the bleeding. “CLS and the IFAK kept him from being killed in combat. It saved his life.”

Patriot Defence caught the eye of Bohdan Cherniawski, a veteran, who worked as a Medic with the Canadian Forces for more than two decades and more recently as a Registered Nurse in the Emergency Department at the University Health Network in Toronto, Ontario. Mr. Cherniawski travelled to Ukraine to assist Patriot Defence in the development of standardized medical programs.

Patriot Defence plays a very important role in saving soldiers’ lives, says Mr. Cherniawski, and adds that the time it can take to get a wounded soldier to a hospital can exceed 12 hours. “This delayed evacuation coupled with very few combat medics, integral to the battalions, can be challenging. Teaching Ukrainian soldiers how to perform self-aid, buddy-aid and tactical field care is critical to ensuring more fathers and sons return home to their families.”

Dr. Suprun and her team coordinate all of the training with various ministries in Ukraine, such as the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior. Since the start of the program, training has been provided to numerous units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, volunteer battalions, Ministry of the Interior, Security Service and many others.

Research conducted by the United States Army concluded that of 90 per cent of combat deaths, 15 per cent are preventable with proper combat first aid training and medical equipment. Additionally, the United States Army concluded that of the 15 per cent of preventable deaths, 60 percent of soldiers die from catastrophic blood loss, 30 percent from collapsed lungs and 10 per cent from blocked airways. To increase a soldier’s chances of surviving these kinds of injuries, the IFAK was developed and mandatory CLS training was introduced to teach soldiers how to address their wounds in the field to increase their chance of survival.

The Ukrainian IFAKs therefore include critical medical supplies that allow soldiers to perform self-aid and buddy-aid in the battlefield and contain: tourniquets, a halo chest seal, QuickClot combat gauze, emergency medical scissors, an airway tube, wound dressing, also known as an “Israeli bandage”, 14 gauge needles, medical gloves, tape and pill pack as well as a condensed first aid manual.

Dr. Suprun is committed to raising the level of knowledge in tactical medicine in Ukraine and ensuring that every soldier deployed to eastern Ukraine is trained in CLS and provided with an IFAK. Global fundraising for this important initiative continues to help realize this goal.

To watch training videos and learn more about Patriot Defence, please visit the Patriot Defence You Tube channel. Donations can be made online at