Ukraine Notebook: Abandon ship protocol

On January 6th, 2023, two British volunteers, Andrew Bagshaw and Christopher Parry, went missing near Soledar in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. As I write this, in late January 2023, there have been no verified sightings of them, and they are presumed dead or captured. Their vehicle was found soon after their disappearance–locked. Presumably they had to abandon it and head out on foot. You should prepare and practice for this situation. The protocol that I am suggesting for you here is based on the US Navy’s procedure for abandoning a sinking ship. Air crew members: if you can add something, please tell us about it in the comments.

  1. Count to ensure that everyone is present or accounted for.
  2. Check that all survival equipment is on someone’s back or in their pockets: BOB, medical bag, communication tools, escape route maps, water and food.
  3. Destroy all sensitive information.
  4. Consider destroying or disabling the vehicle.
  5. Notify someone.

Everyone present or accounted for: “everyone” means all team members and any passengers. Passengers are most often civilians who are being evacuated from the front (with attendant communication problems related to lack of a shared language), but may also be journalists (who can present their own set of challenges). If you must leave behind bodies, note their location. Take their passport, wallet, telephone, and any other personal effects or useful items (for example, individual first aid kit (IFAK), helmet, body armor, water). Consider leaving identification of some kind with them, or writing identifying information (including nationality so that the appropriate embassy can be contacted) on their clothes or body. Also consider taking a lock of their hair, some bloody clothing, or a cheek swab for later DNA matching. (Back in the day, American medics took fingerprints of bodies that would be buried overseas. See below for a link to an article on digital collection of fingerprints–no pun intended…)

Bug-out bag (“BOB”): this is an easily carryable container, typically a small- or medium-sized backpack, containing everything that you would want to have with you if you had to abandon your home (or office, or vehicle) in an emergency. You can find plenty of advice elsewhere on what a BOB should contain. Customize it for your operating environment, and update it as that changes, as the weather changes, as your crew size changes, etc.

Medical bag: this contains more things than one would have in an individual first aid kit (IFAK, or аптечка). Ours have the usual things, plus a splint, extra bandaging materials, and a radiation monitor.

Destroy all sensitive information: Destroy information on evacuees you have picked up or were on the way to pick up. Delete from your phone/destroy paper maps that show your safehouse, checkpoints, military units, humanitarian centers, routes… You should have left for your day’s mission with a separate map that shows the area that you would have to walk through to reach safety, and nothing else.

Destroying or disabling the vehicle: Even a vehicle that no longer runs is a valuable source of spare parts for the enemy in a war where logistics has been a/the major struggle for both sides. It also might contain sensitive information that you missed when you left it. I don’t know shit (to “not know shit” means to not know anything at all) about destroying vehicles–if you do, dear reader, please tell us about it in the Comments section. (In the Navy, you place explosive charges in relevant places so that the ship is guaranteed to go down.)

Notify someone: Tell them who is with you, where you are, and where you are heading.

The British reporter Tom Mutch knew one of the two missing British volunteers. He describes them as brave guys doing life-saving work–and as under-equipped and ill-prepared for working in a combat zone. You do not have to be ill-prepared. Practice this protocol before you need it. Andrew Bagshaw and Christopher Parry: I hope we see you again some day.

Want to support my work as a medic in Ukraine? If you know me, you can send money to me via PayPal using my email address. $2.99 will buy a pack of gauze, $20 will buy a pair of tactical glasses, $30 will buy a tourniquet, $125 will buy an individual first aid kit, $400 will buy a medical bag, $800 will buy a set of body armor. If you don’t know me, you can donate through any of these organizations. I work with all of them, and they’re all quite good.

Bryan T. Johnson & John A. J. M. Riemen (2019) Digital capture of fingerprints
in a disaster victim identification setting: a review and case study
, Forensic Sciences Research, 4:4,
293-302, DOI: 10.1080/20961790.2018.1521327

Picture at top of page: van stuck in the mud in the middle of an artillery duel, east side of Bakhmut. Photo by Ori Aviram.

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