Heroic medics open the lid on a daring mission to rescue a seriously wounded British militant in Ukraine
Two medics launched a daring raid to rescue a wounded British soldier in Ukraine.
Craig Borthwick and Ewan Cameron of Scotland rescued Bristol-born Sharif Amin after he was badly injured in a Russian bomb blast in Odessa.
The couple, who are volunteering in Ukraine for British medical charity ReactAid, took action after Sharif issued an appeal to return home for treatment.
Despite heavy Russian bombardment, Craig and Ewan managed to get the 40-year-old man out of the shelled city.
The next task was to transport the wounded man 600 miles across Ukraine and across the border into Poland so he could be airlifted to safety.
Luckily, they managed to make it and fly him safely back to the UK, where surgeons are trying to repair his shattered body.
Craig, from Lanarkshire, told The Daily Record: “This was not our first rodeo as we have been involved in Ukraine since the beginning of the invasion. But this time everything that could go wrong happened.
“The mission involved ground travel to Odessa, a regularly bombed city, the risk of being arrested by the Russians, while treating a seriously wounded person.”
Sharif and his unit were attacked by Russian troops while patrolling the front lines in October, resulting in bullet wounds, punctures in both lungs and shrapnel in all four limbs.
Craig and Yuen teamed up with Ukraine Air Rescue to plan Sharif’s evacuation.
On December 17, the couple arrived at Krakow Airport in Poland to pick up an ambulance provided to them by the Norwegian Brigade.
Craig, 53, said: “The road from Krakow to Odessa was supposed to take 14 hours, through areas heavily bombed and dangerous for missiles.
“We got into the ambulance and it didn’t go because it didn’t move for six weeks and we had to start it up.
“We drove 44 kilometers on the road and stopped at a gas station to refuel, but when we started driving, it would not start again.
“It was about one in the morning, the weather was terrible, it was snowing and minus eight degrees.
“We had no idea where we were and were completely stuck.
“We had deadlines to get to Sharif, transport him back across the border and put him on a private jet. It was a flight of mercy, but we no longer knew if we could make it.
“In just a couple of hours, most people would have dumped him, but it’s not in our psyches.”
Fortunately, a group of Ukrainian citizens in a convoy of four-wheel drive vehicles heading to the border stopped at a gas station and spent hours trying to call an ambulance.
But in the end, the couple were forced to give it up in order to get to Sharif.
Craig said: “The guys gave us a ride, and we decided to go by train from Lviv to Odessa.
“We had to carry 100 kg of equipment on foot for two. The stations are a target for the Russians, and until the next morning we did not know that when we were driving through Vinnitsa, it was bombed.
Odessa was also bombed the morning Craig and Ewen arrived.
Upon arrival at the hospital where Sharif was staying, the couple had new problems.
Craig said: “The bureaucracy there is terrible and despite the fact that the hospital said he could travel, Sharif did not have the paperwork needed to travel.
“It was a big blow because we just had to get him out of there or he wouldn’t get the treatment he needed.”
After 10 hours of waiting, they finally decided to take the train with Sharif despite the horrific injuries to their arms, torso and legs.
On the train to Lvov in western Ukraine, Sharif was in terrible pain, and Craig gave him injections every three to four hours to relieve it.
“When we arrived in Lviv, the paperwork had not yet been completed,” Craig said. “We knew that if we crossed the border without him, we could be arrested or sent back to Ukraine, but our hands were tied and we had to act that night.”
They were eventually allowed to board a train to Poland, where a charity flight to the UK from Rzeszow Airport organized by Ukraine Air Rescue was waiting for them.
The flight stopped at Cologne Airport, where Craig performed a series of medical checks on Sharif.
But when Sharif passed through security in Cologne to return to the plane for the last leg of the journey, they were stopped by security because traces of explosives were found on Sharif’s clothes.
Craig said: “The police were called, but in the end we got through. It’s just another thing that went wrong.
“We were so relieved when we finally made it to Bristol and then by taxi to Southmead Hospital where we were met by the surgical team.”
Craig said Sharif’s transfer to the hospital was “very emotional”.
He added: “We slept for about seven hours over four days and were exhausted physically and emotionally.
“How Sharif survived the explosion and the way back, I don’t know.
“He is a very special character and I have been talking to him most of the days since we got home.
“Yuen and I are now waiting to evacuate other victims, but ReactAid is in desperate need of more funding.
“Every penny goes to saving lives.
“Ukraine is suffering so much, but people have incredible resilience. So far, I do not see the end of the war and do not know how it will end.
Sharif served nine years in the British 1st Fusiliers Battalion, including two trips to Afghanistan.
He left for Ukraine, where his fiancée Elena Vitvitskaya is from, almost immediately after the outbreak of the war in February last year and initially provided humanitarian assistance.
But as the fighting intensified, he began to use the skills he learned in the British army to train Ukrainians before registering as a soldier.
Sharif’s nickname is Rambo, which comes from being compared to Sylvester Stallone’s character in the film due to his tenacity and perseverance in war.
While still recuperating in the hospital, he said he would transform from “Rambo” to RoboCop after his reconstruction surgery.
To donate to ReactAid, visit here.
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