Ukraine war: Ukraine: The daily life of the fire brigade in Mykolaiv is so brutal

When rockets hit, the “soldiers of fire” are the first on site. They were not prepared for the brutality of everyday life.

The building seems deserted. The windows of the facade are nailed up with plywood panels over five floors to protect the house from the cold.

“That was a few weeks ago,” explains baby-faced Vladyslaw, the young commander of one of the five firefighting units of Mykolaiv, a city in southern Ukraine near the front. “The bullet’s a bit further away, it hit the back there. The blast shattered all the windows, threw cars and even our fire engine around.” He points to a hole the size of his hand made by shrapnel in the door of the red and white vehicle.

To survive are all firefighterswho were on guard that day fled to the basement.

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Ukraine war: “For us, the front is here,” says the fireman

As if they wanted to remind themselves of their mission in everyday life, their motto can be found everywhere on the third floor: prevent – rescue – help. Five units of 50 men each make in Mykolayiv a job that has transformed them from “soldiers of fire,” as they call themselves, to simple soldiers every day since the beginning of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine in February.

“For us, the front is here,” says Wladyslaw. Every day from new ones they go into battle. A terrible everyday life in a city that only has half of its 400,000 inhabitants. And for which none of them were prepared.

All night they tried to rescue survivors from the rubble

The last bomb attack was a few nights ago when four S-300 rockets hit the city center. the firefighters spent until dawn rescuing survivors from the rubble at four different impact sites. Early in the morning they were still not done.

“The Russians shoot fairly regularly. The S-300 always in groups of four. When you hear one, you know there are three others to come. After that it’s like the lottery…” Anatoly, whose face is more angular, tries to joke. In early March, shortly after Russia started war against Ukraine, their former base was hit by a missile. “Everyone was asleep, soldiers and firefighters. It was a massacre,” he sighs and falls silent because the memory is horrible. The number of people killed in this attack is still being kept secret by the government in Kyiv.

The war has turned many into fatalists

Standing in the huge garage six vehicles ready to depart side by side. In a corner their old suits hang on the wall as if they were waiting. “The outfit of a past life. It is not at all suitable for today’s situation,” says deputy commander Kostyantyn. “Now we have to wear flak vests and heavy helmets because of the shrapnel.”

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In the face of the heavy shelling in recent weeks, they have all become fatalists. It has become so routine that Wladyslaw just shrugs his shoulders.

Danylo is only there for a short time, he only knows the war

A brutal everyday life for which none of them were prepared. The only positive thing about it is that “because half the residents fled the city, we don’t get called to fires anymore because someone didn’t put out their cigarette in bed,” jokes Danylo. He’s the youngest, her mascot, so to speak. “He started on the day of the invasion,” says Wladyslaw, pointing at him. “He’s a real war fireman. He doesn’t know what life was before…”.

Anatoliy admits: “The work used to be dangerous, too,” but the war added another shovel to it. “We have to adapt to that.” And he adds: “We don’t have time to be afraid or to panic. We’ll have to save that for later. We have to take care of the people and at the same time you can’t stop yourself from thinking about your own family and wondering if they are safe and if everything is okay at home.”

They try to joke to create distance from the horror

Kostyantyn follows suit. “You can’t stop yourself from thinking about your own children as you pull some out of the rubble. But that’s how it is…”.

To protect themselves, the squad tries to joke about everything. Like to create distance from the horror they face every day. “But of course I know that the protective shield gets thinner with every exit after a bomb attack,” admits Kostjantyn.

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Everyone has very clear memories of the last few months. A mission, a death, a rescue that was more difficult than others.

“It was the worst day of my life”

For the mascot Danylo it was “the demolition of the buildings housing the entire administration of Mykolaiv”. The rubble was almost four meters high. “We had to clear the whole heap. It was terrible because little by little we found traces of the people. First a head appeared, then an arm,” Danylo falters.

“Then there was a man next to me. He wasn’t in uniform and took part. I could feel how tense he was.” Danylo turns to face him as he removes bits of concrete. “I told him he can’t stay here because the rubble is too unstable. Then I understood that he was looking for someone under the rubble. I asked who? He replied: ‘My daughter’ and pointed the head and the arm in the rubble. Something ripped in my body that day,” says Danylo quietly. “I think that was the worst day of my life.”

They tell each other these stories as if to exorcise themselves, as a kind of protection, as if to wink at death, as if to say, “You can’t do anything worse than what you’ve already done to us.”

Far too often they are also first responders and psychologists

Anatoly remembers a family in a small village not far from Mykolaiv. “The grandmother, the mother and the son. The three slept in the basement every night. The rocket has penetrated to the foundation walls. We had to get the two women out first. They had lost their legs, but the son had been blown to bits by the impact. We could only pick up pieces, human scraps. The boy was born in 2007.”

Often comes the men from the fire department special importance because they are the first to arrive. “We have to fill different roles. First responders, psychologist, those who inform the relatives,” explains Anatoly. “But the worst thing is that while we know what happened, the families of the soldiers are waiting for them with hope.”

Then Anatoly smiles again. “People sometimes joke and say, ‘But you firefighters sleep all the time.’ What they don’t understand is that nothing better can happen. “When we sleep, it means everything is fine and no rocket has fallen on the city.”

Ukraine war – background and explanations for the conflict





capital city



603,700 square kilometers (including Eastern Ukraine and Crimea)


approx. 41 million

head of state

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

head of government

Prime Minister Denys Schmyhal


August 24, 1991 (by the Soviet Union)





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