On the Train From Kyiv to Chelm, October 28th, 2023


"Soon the train will stop. The border guard will give me back my passport – but I know we’ll be back again soon."

Any Good Poem

Richard Berlin, MD, shares the poem, "On the train from Kyiv to Chelm, October 28th, 2023" by Chris Fitzpatrick, MD.

The University College in Dublin, Ireland runs a “Ukraine Trauma Project” which provides training courses for medical personnel in Ukraine. They also supply equipment to Ukrainian emergency medical service members involved in the pre-hospital care of war victims. Dr Fitzpatrick is part of the team.

On the Train from Kyiv to Chelm, October 28th, 2023

Pounding rhythm. My pulse is an iron hammer. I’m standing in the short corridor between train carriages.

The metal plates grind and shudder and clank beneath my feet.

I check my phone – 4 am. Soon, the border, and Poland.

Outside the window is a black smear. The occasional lights are like comets with long streaking tails.

These are the Bloodlands of World War II. Bloodshed and death have returned to Ukraine.

I think back on the last week in Kyiv.

We bring translated protocols, mannequins, 3-D printed bones, artificial blood. We dispense tourniquets, bandages, ampoules of a drug to control haemorrhage, special drills to insert needles into bone marrow when there are no veins, shears

to cut away clothes to expose wounds, chest seals, pelvic binders,

anti-hypothermia foil blankets, and much more besides.

The participants practice making perfect; these are matters of life and death.

A young woman who sold makeup online before the war is a combat medic;

she thinks nothing of putting her life in danger to save the lives of others.

The idealism of a young doctor from Odesa restores my lost faith.

A woman whose husband was killed on the front line a week ago tells me

she is doing this for her husband, her children, her country.

She says, “my husband is my hero.”

She hopes they will retrieve his body soon.

Lost for words, I light a candle in St Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery, for him, for her, for all of them, for all whom they have lost. A priest holds an icon up

for a long queue to kiss – and I’m an altar boy back in Dublin in the 1960s.

Outside St Michael’s, children play in sunshine on a tank – captured, rusting, covered in graffiti.

Soon the train will stop. The border guard will give me back my passport –

but I know we’ll be back again soon.

Dr Berlin has been writing a poem about his experience of being a doctor every month for the past 26 years in Psychiatric Times in a column called “Poetry of the Times.” He is instructor in psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts. His latest book is Freud on My Couch.

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