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Russian woman joins rebel movement in Ukraine

By Diego Laje, CNN
updated 11:40 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Marina rests on her hospital bed as she awaits her full recovery.
Marina rests on her hospital bed as she awaits her full recovery.
  • Her nom-de-guerre is Tigger, inspired by Winnie the Pooh's feline friend
  • She crossed a border to join the fight rarely admitted by rebel forces
  • Though injured, she vows to fight again

Donetsk, Ukraine (CNN) -- Marina lost her spleen and has a punctured lung. She was attached to a rebel group as a combat medic, and was hurt during the fighting, she told CNN from her hospital bed.

She read a tousled book in an almost empty ward in Donetsk's Kalinin hospital. Her chest drained blood and other fluids to a bottle on the floor.

Her nom-de-guerre is Tigger, inspired by Winnie the Pooh's feline friend. She chose not to reveal her surname for safety reasons, but her self-introduction was revealing.

"I'm from Russia, from Kuban, I'm 23 years old, I used to work at a rescue organization and I got here because I couldn't stay out of the situation," Marina said.

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Marina isn't Ukrainian, she crossed a border to join the fight rarely admitted by rebel forces. Help for Donetsk Peoples' Republic, the formal name of the rebels, comes from Russia in many forms, and this combat medic was another example.

Now, she spends her days in hospital, receiving care from doctors who are as concerned about their neutrality as they are about their patients.

In this war-torn region, every day is a struggle.

"Due to the fighting many people have left the region... we have enough doctors, but there's a shortage of nurses," said Dr. Andrei Sagalevich, head of the Surgery Department at Kalinina Hospital.

Dr. Sagalevich manages an institution with beds for 1,100 patients; nevertheless, an occupation of around 50% is challenging given their staff and supply levels.

Combat wounded represent a relatively small number of people under treatment in Kalinin. Out of 38, at least 15 are civilians.

But these figures are imprecise. A hospital building was taken over by the rebels and cases that aren't serious recover there. Doctors have no way of knowing exactly how many people their institution takes care of.

Their most reliable supply line is currently run by NGO Doctors Without Borders. Sagalevich told CNN how grateful he is for the medicines and other necessities they donate to his hospital and others across the region.

"The medical staff I have seen is amazing, most hospitals continue to work in this extremely difficult situation," said Colette Gadenne, emergency field coordinator for Donetsk's Doctors Without Borders.

Donetsk is relatively more accessible, and here they have been able to distribute supplies to treat up to 2,380 combat wounded. In other regions, where these materials are desperately needed due to fierce fighting, logistics are limited.

"We struggle to have access to hospitals to supply them, because of the dynamics of the conflict, it's very difficult," Gadenne told CNN.

Marina was wounded in one of these hot areas where fierce fighting continues.

Slovyansk was under mortar fire and I helped pull a family out of the debris," Marina proudly said.

Not long after that, she was shot.

Her punctured lung made her pant as she tried to speak. Determined to continue talking, sitting upright on her bed, she was already thinking about what to do after recovery.

"I want to join the fight again, there's a shortage of medical staff, and I want to help; Fascism won't be tolerated." Marina said.

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Kateryna Zhuchenko contributed to this report.

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