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  • Nery Duarte

Kherson, Ukraine. Midafternoon, Christmas Day, 2022

I returned to the Christian church I support in Kherson from perhaps one of the most poignant medical emergencies I have ever attended. The central market of the city of Kherson had received a barrage of rockets killing over a dozen people and wounding even more. This happened in the neighbourhood where I live. The church I support hosted a Christmas concert with around one thousand attendees, and they would hand out relief assistance after the show. After attending the medical emergency caused by at least twelve rockets hitting the busy central market, I returned to my intended job: dressing up as a clown and entertaining while people received assistance.

While waiting, I was still wearing my bulletproof vest and emergency equipment. I sat down in a corner to process the last four hours. An international volunteer came to sit by me. I could tell she was having difficulty asking me the appropriate questions. Nevertheless, I appreciated her willingness to be caring. As she was trying to support me, a woman in a loud voice ordered us to lie down. And one second later, there was a loud explosion. I was calm since the blast felt far away. However, a few seconds later, a second explosion sounded. This time it was so close that my ears started to hurt. The rocket had come down thirty meters from our compound. Fortunately, no one was hurt because a thick rock wall protected us. We ran into the basement.

Amazingly, the Christmas concert never stopped. Despite the relentless rocket artillery fire from the Russian army stationed only five hundred meters south, these brothers continued cooking, praying, and caring for others. In the meantime, I was down, seeking refuge between two oversized pallets of spaghetti boxes, thinking, "Who would ever predict that my life would end up as spaghetti sauce?"Finding a refugee between two oversized pallets of spaghetti allowed me to reflect. This event proved how determined Ukrainians are to overcome this misfortune. Plus, I have nothing but respect for people of faith who, despite the possibility of a mortar hitting our compound, kept with their mission of caring.

The day before, at the same distribution place, I was horrified at how an incendiary cluster bomb exploded midair and sent down dozens of incendiary phosphorus shrapnel. Plus, I spent a sleepless night trying to stay warm and hearing relentless artillery fire. However, the next day was Christmas, and I looked forward to dressing up as a clown and entertaining at the relief distribution center.

Christmas Day: At around eight and after an almost sleepless night, I put together my clown outfit and some gifts I had brought. I walked down from my hotel greeting everyone and wishing all a merry Christmas. I crossed the street for a cup of coffee and some bread before heading off to the church, and after, I slowly made myself through the central market. The market was bustling, perhaps because it was Christmas day. I strolled because I enjoyed seeing vendors selling freshly cut Christmas trees and ornaments, and I felt the Christmas spirit for the first time despite the relentless artillery fire the city had endured.

I went to the church and started unpacking my clown outfit and supplies. Suddenly I heard ten, perhaps twelve, loud explosions. A medic ran towards me only a few seconds later and, with no explanation, ordered me to jump into his van. I quickly grabbed my emergency medical equipment since I always carry it, so I do not get caught unprepared, as it happened once in the northern city of Kharkiv. While we made the short ride into the central market, he explained that the market had suffered a rocket attack.

We arrived at the market and saw one ambulance on the scene, plus many casualties lying all over the place. Following massive emergency protocols, I reported myself to the medic in charge and offered our assistance, but he did not seem to care. He said, "Find anyone in need…." The first two people I found were about to die. Although still breathing, they had sustained enough injuries that their bodies would not support human life. One other medic asked me to move on. The casualties were many, and my job was simple: Patch their bleeding and get some transportation. Fortunately, because there were insufficient ambulances, private and army vehicles were willing to take people to the hospital.

Twelve rockets had hit the surrounding of the central market at the prime of the Christmas shopping. Pervasive! When I arrived, I could also see thick black smoke coming from my hotel. I tried to reach my hotel three hundred meters down and still looked for people who had survived. I came across two of them along the way.

Fortunately, and unfortunately, the thick black smoke was not coming from my hotel but from at least eight cars parked in front of my hotel, most of which were taxis. It was painful to walk at least one charred body, and I felt guilty for not paying enough attention to the people I see in my daily life…

I stopped at my hotel. The administrators were still shocked but assured me no one in the hotel was hurt. I ran into my room to replenish my emergency medical supplies and moved on. As I walked back to where I had started, five dead people were still lying on the road. They were innocent civilians caught in the crossfire—people who unknowingly were at the wrong place at the wrong time. I shivered, thinking I had walked the same street only fifteen minutes earlier. As I waited for my ride to pick me up, I spent time with soldiers guarding the scene and still shell-shocked by the event. Some relatives started to arrive to identify their loved ones. I had the unique opportunity to be there with them, accompanying their pain. The picture and narrative below will better explain my feelings during that moment.


Nery


To financially support this mission:

Interact: nerypamduarte@gmail.com PayPal: nduarte1961@gmail.com Western Union: Nery Duarte Alonzo. Ukraine



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