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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

Meet the Ukrainian firefighter battling flame and fear

Andriy, a Ukranian firefighter, standing in front of a firefighting truck
Andriy, a Ukranian firefighter from Chernihiv.
© Andriy Evmenenko

With the start of Russia's full-scale war on Ukraine, Andriy and his fellow firefighters found themselves on their own battlefield. Every day, they fight for the people whose homes have been destroyed by Russian troops.

To help Ukrainian firefighters and rescuers save lives, the EU works with partners such as ‘ACTED’ to provide them with the equipment they need. They receive uniforms and mine detectors that make their work safer and easier.

As a child, I used to look at my father's photos in his firefighting uniform and constantly repeat, ‘I will be like my dad, a firefighter’,” recalls Andriy. Now 35 years old, he has been a firefighter for 14 years and is a unit commander in the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv.

When Andriy heard the first explosions of the war at his house on 24 February at 6 AM, he was getting ready to take his sons to school and kindergarten. But the Russian army advancing toward the city – Chernihiv is located near the Russian border – made him change his plans.

“I took my children and wife to her mother's house in the village and immediately returned to the fire station in Chernihiv,” recalls Andriy.

A few days later, on 27 February, the village where Andriy’s family was sheltering came under the control of Russian forces, and Chernihiv was surrounded. Andriy did not see his family for over a month.

A shelled building with in front a partially burnt car.
Heavy shelling and missile attacks left the streets and houses of Chernihiv deeply scarred or destroyed at their foundations.
© European Union, 2022 (photographer: Volodymyr Kuzka)

“Those days were difficult. But the most difficult moment was when the Russians dropped bombs on the 17-storey building on Chornovil Street,” recalls Andriy.

That day, 47 people were killed, and several apartments and 2 schools were damaged. Andriy was among the first rescuers to arrive at the scene.

“Our shift was on duty at that time. We were involved in extinguishing fires and evacuating people,” he explains.

Andriy shares that in such moments, the most difficult thing is not knowing what awaits you at the call site or what unexpected situations you need to prepare for.

He and his fellow rescuers from the Chernihiv region recently received professional equipment, funded by EU humanitarian aid. Now, these tools are helping Andriy and other firefighters save lives. 

“When we arrive, help, save… This feeling when you pack up your equipment with the understanding that you have helped someone means the day has not been wasted. That's the feeling I like the most.”

Immediately after the Russian army left Chernihiv oblast, Andriy and his family were able to return to their home. Today, a year after, he continues his service in the city.

 “The war with Russia will end someday. But the war with fire will always continue,” he says.

Since February 2022, the European Commission has allocated €685 million for humanitarian aid programmes in Ukraine to help provide food, water, health care, protection, shelter, and cash assistance to the people in need.

Story by Ivanna Bedei, Information and Communication Assistant in Ukraine, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.
Publication date: 04/05/2023