By the time I approached the southern region of Mykolaiv, night had come, bringing with it an all-enveloping curtain of black. Each successive dip and crevice the pickup bounced across on the now hidden road felt as though it would open into a crater and drop me into the bowels of the earth.
I’d been on the road for hours, having left Kyiv with an eventual endpoint at the recently liberated city of Kherson. Despite never having visited this part of Ukraine, monotony had set in shortly after the sun had set and continued as mile after mile turned on the odometer. A lack of street lights, or any lights, emitting from the scattered villages along the route was yet another indicator of the terrorism the invaders had inflicted upon the Ukrainian populace. Soon, the sameness and the darkness were pierced by blinking hazard lights ahead, indicating a slowdown. Thinking it was a checkpoint, I pulled the password up and turned off my headlights.
The stoppage wasn’t for any reason I would have expected. Police cars fully blocked one lane and most of the other, along with the entrance to a gas station. At the station’s opening, a body splayed on the ground, half of it on the asphalt road, half on the concrete ingress. As we waited to pass, the police covered the now lifeless person with an all-too-familiar white cloth, a now common accessory in the war of Russian aggression. The victim had simply been walking to their home just a quarter mile away when a car hit them.
This was not an auto accident. This was a death caused by the direct actions of the Russian war criminals. The person killed is now another eternal hero of Ukraine.
The country has too many eternal heroes. Too many are dying while defending the values of liberty and the goal of independence. Too many are dying defending themselves and their neighbors from potential enslavement at the hands of a diminutive dictator from St. Petersburg. Dying because they lived in Ukraine.
In the war zone for nearly 11 months, as a journalist, volunteer, and soldier, I have seen death in every form. I’ve seen enough carnage to last a lifetime, and yet the toll mounts. As President Zelenskyy’s peace plan strives for, we must work towards making every death the last death.
In giving service to a flag, to a nation, to the core building blocks of freedom, soldiers are often given tasks that aren’t easy but that they are called to perform. The moment has arrived for me to perform the duty asked of me. After months of being focused on communications, analysis, lobbying, and information warfare for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, my time has arrived to serve on the front.
Days after seeing the civilian lying on the road, I was invited to join a unit as a senior combat medic. This unit - my new unit - is engaged in battle at an eastern axis point and will be upon my arrival. I’ve been at the zero line on several previous occasions, spending time at what others refer to as the front. Though I feel ready in a theoretical sense for my upcoming deployment, in reality, I’m certain no experience of mine has properly prepared me for what I’m about to encounter.
As we push forward toward victory, and I carry out my duties as a soldier, as a medic, as a proud American who believes in the rule of law, and as a global citizen serving the flag of Ukraine, I’m not scared of the unknown, nor fearful of what is ahead. Instead, my service is driven by a commitment to democracy and the understanding that defeating Putin and helping Ukrainians around the world achieve their dual goals of total victory and peace is both an honor and a privilege. When victory arrives, and peace follows, so too will the fulfillment of my dream that the next war-related death is the last death coming from Putin’s evil acts.