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'Death is still better than living in Russia': A Ukrainian medic on the front lines says there's no choice but to fight

Ukrainian Cpl. Andrii Shadrin has been deployed to the Donbas region to fight Russian-backed separatists a half dozen times since 2014. The 26-year-old medic spoke to The World's host Carolyn Beeler from a makeshift base in the Luhansk region.

The World

Ukrainian Cpl. Andrii Shadrin is a 26-year-old medic who has been fighting in the eastern Ukrainian Donbas region. 

Courtesy of Cpl. Andrii Shadrin

The European Union’s executive arm recommended putting Ukraine on a path to membership on Friday, a symbolic boost for a country fending off a Russian onslaught that is killing civilians, flattening cities and threatening its very survival.

In another show of Western support, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv to offer continued aid and military training. The European allies' latest embrace of Ukraine marked another setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who launched his war nearly four months ago, hoping to pull his ex-Soviet neighbor away from the West and back into Russia’s sphere of influence.

Related: Lviv rents skyrocket as displaced Ukrainians scramble for housing

At Russia’s showpiece economic forum in St. Petersburg on Friday, Putin said Moscow “has nothing against” Ukraine joining the EU, because it “isn't a military organization, a political organization, like NATO.” He also reprised his usual defense of the war, alleging it was necessary to protect people in parts of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed rebels and to ensure Russia’s own security.

Johnson’s trip to Kyiv followed one Thursday by the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Romania, who pledged to support Ukraine without asking it to make any territorial concessions to Russia.

Related: Ukrainian doctors train for the possibility of a chemical attack from Russia

The European delegation's visit to Kyiv was heavy on symbolism. But what Ukrainians really want to know is whether it will translate into more shipments of heavy weapons to the front lines.

That’s top of mind for soldiers like Ukrainian Cpl. Andrii Shadrin, a 26-year-old medic who has been fighting in the eastern Ukrainian Donbas region. He's been deployed there a half dozen times since 2014. That's when Russia annexed Crimea, the peninsula where Shadrin was born. Shadrin joined The World from a makeshift Ukrainian base in the Luhansk region.

Carolyn Beeler: What have recent days been like for you? 
Cpl. Andrii Shadrin: It's been harder, harder than ever, I suppose. We've faced the strong enemy, so we had to think about how to change our movements and what we are doing. So, it's hard, but we're still operating, and I think it's kind of a success.
And what have you been doing? 
Well, we are having a bunch of equipment placed all around the frontline in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, and we are supplying the infantry with new equipment. We're installing it and making it operative and showing the infantry personnel how to use it properly. Each evening, we are checking on what is wrong and what isn't functional, trying to collect the information from the infantry, what can be wrong. And then, the next day, we're moving to the frontlines and fixing what's been broken by the Russians if it is possible.
Russia controls much of Luhansk, where you are. How close are Russian troops to your base right now?
I can’t provide this information, unfortunately. I’m sorry. We are reachable to the Russian artillery. So, not only the aviation and the rockets.
So, are you seeing or hearing Russian drones flying overhead in addition to artillery?
Yes, sure. Even though we've destroyed plenty of their air force and drones, they still like working together with the drones, so they can get online information of the effectiveness of the artillery working. But they just bring thousands of shells on the heads of Ukrainian infantry units like ours. They're using old-fashioned Soviet artillery systems, while Western countries are trying to make their weapons as accurate as possible. The Soviet doctrine, the Soviet strategy is to bring a wall of fire and just to make the whole region a wasteland. That's what they do right now, pretty much.
So, the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania arrived in the capital of Kyiv on Thursday. What would you tell them if you were able to stand in front of them and give them a message? 
I would ask the French president — or say — a big thank you for the Caesars, we got here. We like them, pretty much. I've seen them at work. The Caesars are the French artillery systems. I've seen them operating. And they're really, really effective. But in abandoned Russian tanks, we get so much French equipment, especially night vision systems that were made in France and shipped to Russia. And I suppose that a lot of them were made before 2014 when the embargo on weapons started working. So, you know, the whole Western world is supporting us and supporting us in a really good way, especially Great Britain and the US. And then we find Western equipment in abandoned Russian vehicles. That makes you pretty confused about what's going on in the world.
You said you see Western weapons in Russian tanks and are confused. What do you mean? 
They have the system of night aiming that was made in France, and they're used to aim at night. And it's a big threat for Ukrainian infantry and for us, sometimes; the operator of a Russian armored vehicle can see you and effectively shoot you up to 2 kilometers at night with his 30-millimeter automatic cannon. 
I know you've been hit by shrapnel three times. How are you emotionally and mentally right now? How is your morale? How is your unit's morale? 
Well, death is still better than living in Russia, for us. I don't think we're going to give up. We've been given no choice, only to fight. So, we're fighting, doing everything we can and a little bit more, I suppose.
You are a trained medic. Can you tell me about some of the soldiers that you've had to treat? 
I've been treating three civilian women in the Luhansk region. They were going to the grocery shop to buy a loaf of bread. And they were shot by shrapnel in their legs. And as a trained medic, when I put on a tourniquet, I always say that it's going to hurt … one woman was telling me … ‘who’s your daughter, I know it's going to hurt. I don't care.’ And when we were putting those women inside the vehicle, one of them asked me to kill as many Russians as I can.
So, you have the support of the civilians. I wanted to ask you about your family. Your parents were born in Soviet Russia. I understand they moved to Crimea where you were born. What sort of communication do you have with them?
Now, I have no communication. I've been in touch with medics who were in the Kyiv region … in the beginning of March, when those satellites of Kyiv were freed from Russian forces. And they were calling me and crying. Absolutely, adult people, soldiers; a lot of them have been serving for eight or more years. They were calling me and crying and I was trying to tell it to my mother. She told me that, "you know, when you're chopping in the woods, there are some small scraps of wood flying around and those people dead in Bucha are those scraps of wood when you chop the forest." And that was it for me. Like, I’m all done. "Thank you, mom. Bye. Hope I never see you."
How do you keep going day after day? You've been out there for a long time. 
Well, nobody except me is going to do it. And you can always run away from something evil. But you will never defeat the evil running. So, we need to solve this Ukrainian-Russian problem. And I think the biggest threat [to] European security is Russia. I hope someday it's going to end. I hope that someday we're going to start building a European country, without looking back to this Soviet corpse that is smelling pretty bad behind our backs.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.