David reflects on his latest mission in Ukraine

Our Co-Founder David Nott recently travelled to Ukraine with UOSSM International, performing life-changing surgeries and offering guidance to doctors across the country. Here, David shares his reflections on what will remain a memorable and emotional mission.

My latest mission to Ukraine was an incredibly important one for me. I travelled everywhere, north, south, east and west.

I initially started in one hospital. When they knew what I could do, I was asked to go to more hospitals, and it started to snowball from there. I began by treating a number of old war injuries, people that had holes in their legs and arms, loss of shoulders and big fragmentation wounds.

It was clear that Ukrainian surgeons wanted support with plastic surgery. Many didn’t know how to rotate flaps, some had never seen one before. Many had never done war surgery at all. So, I spent my first week just operating and operating – doing all I could.

At one point, I had 14 or 15 people in an operating theatre all bent over watching what I was doing. It’s a great way to teach – I stood back and told them where to make the incisions. They were delighted to learn.

I reconstructed a patient’s shoulder that had been blown off and other serious blast wounds. When I went back the next day to see one of the blast patients, they gave me a thank you plaque which was incredibly kind. They were desperate to have somebody show them what to do – someone there to help them.

I travelled all over the country to regions that have now been heavily bombed. I saw how refugees in Lviv are gathering in a railway station, and the fantastic work that NGOs are doing there. There are thousands of people, all being fed and sheltered with the help of outstanding charities.

Now having seen the devastation, it feels like the exact same tactics as in Syria. When I was in Aleppo in 2016, the whole region was completely and utterly destroyed. What we’re seeing in cities like Mariupol – the destruction – feels very similar to what I witnessed in Aleppo.

Teaching has carried on here in the UK. I taught a doctor called Oleksandr who contacted me when I was back home. He watched me repair a serious leg wound in Ukraine and had seen the condensed training videos we made for surgeons there, but Oleksandr was now the lead surgeon faced with a similar blast injury.

I guided him through his surgery remotely, as he took a flap of skin from behind the knee to repair and close the wound.

“I was quite nervous, but it went well thanks to David Nott. He showed us ordinary doctors how to fight on the medical frontline.” – Oleksandr

Oleksandr and his colleagues are treating awful injuries that no-one should ever experience. But the injuries will keep coming, so it’s my hope that they will pass on what they’ve learned. By sharing my knowledge and 30 years of war surgery experience, a lasting legacy is created.

There’s a huge amount of work to do. I think surgeons and healthcare professionals in Ukraine will be faced with war wound reconstructions for many years. Plastic surgery will be incredibly important as the conflict continues – and far into the future too. The Foundation will do all we can to help doctors navigate this war and its aftermath.

Read David’s story in the BBC