'Stop the Bleed' nonprofit teaches Ukrainian military life-saving tools

One soldier told ABC News the training "saved my life."

May 23, 2023, 6:02 PM

A U.S. nonprofit created after a school shooting is helping troops in Ukraine learn crucial medical care -- and some soldiers on the ground credit the new skill set with saving lives.

Stop the Bleed, a nonprofit collaboration from the American College of Surgeons formed in the aftermath of the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, is training Ukrainian soldiers and giving kits that could save lives to troops fighting Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Dr. Roxolana Horbowyj, a Philadelphia-based surgeon, has been teaching Stop the Bleed directly to people in Ukraine since 2017. Horbowyj said she used to teach the techniques in person in Ukraine and started via Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said the war added challenges when students did not have tourniquets. Now, she instructs soldiers and civilians on how to use tourniquets or everyday items to stanch bleeding.

"To improvise when standard equipment is not at hand, we use a meter-by-meter-sized silk scarf, a spoon and a keyring, in very specific steps of what to do," said Horbowyj, who is of Ukrainian descent.

The nonprofit also released a YouTube video in Ukrainian to train those who could not be trained in person or virtually.

A Ukrainian soldier who survived in Bakhmut for a month said that the skills from Stop the Bleed were invaluable.

"[The skills] even saved my life sometimes. ... If I am writing to you now, then I was successful in them," said the soldier.

The soldier asked ABC News not to share his or her identity due to safety concerns.

Dr. Aaron Epstein, the founder of the non-governmental organization Global Surgical and Medical Support Group which partners with Stop the Bleed, agreed that the work is critical, saying he's heard anecdotally that hundreds of trainees have saved lives amid the conflict. treated some of the injured in Ukraine and educated medical personnel on the frontlines.

"These people probably could have left and fled to Europe, but knowing full well that they had some level of medical knowledge as med students or residents chose to stay and try and learn more and kind of that higher level [medical training] to help their fellow Ukrainian citizens," said Epstein, whose mission is to train those in war zones.

Stop the Bleed distributed bleeding control equipment, including 50,000 combat application tourniquets, after receiving $99,000 in donations. The organization has trained more than 20,000 Ukrainians as of January, according to its website.

But the work comes with risks, including discovery of the new resources by Russian forces.

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"They're much more muted and much more careful -- I know they can't always speak," Horbowyj said of her more recent visits to train troops. "Some of the classes that we had we might have to take a pause because somebody's bomb alarm went off."

Epstein said his team was targeted by a drone in Ukraine, but luckily lost it in a neighboring building.

"It's just particularly heinous when they deliberately target someone who is trying to help someone else. It just is kind of barbaric," said Epstein.

Horbowyj said that ambulances and even medics are often targeted.

"The medics will pull someone out and be you know, sheltered behind a rock or something, a drone with a grenade and come find them and drop a grenade on them too," said Horbowyj.

Epstein said that seeing the atrocities has made him more motivated to help Ukrainians, but also made him more grateful for life in the U.S.

"Whenever I hear med students or residents say, 'Oh man, I'm so stressed out. I didn't get my six hours of sleep last night.' Well, at least you don't have the Russians coming here to kill you tomorrow," said Epstein.

Epstein said that his next step is to provide more surgical relief, training and support. But, he noted, the most important thing is "the relief of being there for people."

Horbowyj told ABC News she hopes to provide frontline medic training in person.

May is National Stop the Bleed Month, which encourages people to learn how to stop bleeding before first responders arrive.

While Ukrainian officials have released very little information on military casualties, there have been an estimated 22,734 civilian casualties including 8,490 deaths and 14,244 people injured since Russia invaded in February 2022, the United Nations said in April.

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