By Genya Savilov and Alice Hackman
As the hospital train sped away from the frontline in war-torn Ukraine, electrician Evhen Perepelytsia was grateful he would soon see his children again after almost losing his life.
“We hope that the worst is over — that after what I’ve been through, it will be better,” the 30-year-old said, lying on a train carriage bed swaddled in a grey blanket.
He was among 48 wounded and elderly patients to be evacuated from embattled east Ukraine this weekend, pulling up in the western city of Lviv Sunday evening after a long trip overnight.
The evacuation was the first from the east since a Russian strike killed 52 people among thousands waiting for the train at the eastern railway station of Kramatorsk on Friday.
And it was the fourth to be organised by medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Inside one of the carriages turned ward-on-wheels, Perepelytsya recounted how he lost his leg to shelling in his hometown of Hirske in the eastern region of Luhansk.
He was standing outside, and had just discussed abandoning their home to join their children in the west of the country, he said.
“I took one step forward, and when I made the second, I fell,” he said.
“It turned out that it hit very close to me, hit a monument, and a fragment from it tore off my leg.”
‘We saved his life’
Sitting on the end of his bed, his wife Yuliya, 29, said she had been terrified she would lose him.
“He was unconscious twice in the intensive care unit,” she said.
“We couldn’t save his leg, but we saved his life.”
She said their three children were waiting in Lviv with their grandmother.
“We’re not going back,” she said.
The United Nations says at least 1,793 civilians have been killed and 2,439 wounded since Russia launched its invasion, but the actual tally is likely much higher.
More than 10 million people have been forced to flee their homes.
The Ukrainian authorities have in recent days urged all residents in the east of the country to flee westwards to safety as they fear Moscow will unleash the full force of its military there after setbacks around the capital Kyiv.
As the blue carriages pulled into Lviv, medics carried those who were unable to walk on stretchers into waiting ambulances, and helped the others on foot or in wheelchairs onto buses.
In one bus, 77-year-old Praskovya sat patiently with a large white bandage on her eye, and a net over her head to keep it in place.
“My eye hurts,” said the elderly lady from the village of Novodruzhesk in Luhansk, who did not give her second name.
“But the doctors on the train were great,” she added, of the 13 staff members on board, most of them Ukrainian.
‘Heading back tonight’
In front of her, a 67-year-old who gave his name as Ivan said he had to wait in a basement for two days after being shot in the street.
Neighbours in the town of Popasna, also in Luhansk, bandaged him up as best they could until the medics could arrive.
On the platform, MSF train hospital coordinator Jean-Clement Cabrol caught his breath.
The train had successfully ferried 48 people to safety, but still many more needed help, the doctor in a black beanie hat said.
Earlier in the war, a first train had travelled to Zaporizhzhia to pick up three families who were wounded while trying to flee the besieged port city of Mariupol.
After that, two operations whisked dozens of patients — mostly elderly people — out of Kramatorsk, leaving just days before the deadly Russian attack.
By the tracks on Sunday evening, the doctor said another train would soon depart to continue evacuations as long as it was possible.
“We are heading back tonight,” he said.