Days into the war, an Auckland Hospital doctor travelled to Ukraine. She tells Nicholas Jones about being away from her young family, sleeping through air-raid sirens and helping a child with shrapnel in his brain.
Iryna Rybinkina spent days watching her homeland burn before calling a meeting with her boss at Auckland City Hospital.
"I said, look, I'm resigning and going back."
The cardiothoracic anaesthetist had only recently started working in Auckland on a fellowship, after moving over her young family from the United Kingdom.
She was looking forward to a better work-life balance, tipping towards life and maximum beach time. Then, the war began.
"When the first rockets flew into Ukraine, it was this sort of sense of disbelief," the 40-year-old told the Weekend Herald in an exclusive interview.
"I was so far away, on the other side of the world. I couldn't work. I couldn't concentrate."
When conflict erupted between the Ukrainian army and Russian-backed separatists in the eastern region of Donbas in 2014, Rybinkina and other UK specialists travelled to deliver trauma training at hospitals near the fighting.
She also organised donation and distribution of medical supplies, and began doing so in earnest after Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24 this year.
The family's Mt Wellington rental home turned into a command centre. Rybinkina spent up to 20 hours a day calling and messaging contacts around the world. Donations were secured, and online training organised for about 1000 Ukrainian doctors.
"I developed this crazy pacing around the house, surviving on coffee. And on day nine I think it hit me - that there was nothing else I could achieve over the phone. It was time."
Her partner, Jacco Veldhuijzen, who was soon to start working at Auckland Hospital emergency department, told her she could help from a distance.
"I was absolutely not happy," he says. "But knowing Iryna, it was, for her, the only choice she could make at that time.
"She's very idealistic; she always thinks of others ahead of herself."
They left their worldly possessions - just arrived in an unpacked container from the UK - and flew to Veldhuijzen's native Netherlands, where he remained with their two children, aged 2 and 9.
Rybinkina went on to Warsaw, and crossed into Ukraine on March 9, against a tide of human misery. At that point in the war, about 50,000 people were moving west from Kyiv every day. Hundreds crammed into rail stations and others walked great distances in freezing conditions.
"It was snowing - minus 10 - and there were queues on the Ukrainian border of 10 hours, with half-conscious children and women, who had jumped out of the buildings that were burned and destroyed by Russians, and had travelled for five days.
"It is something out of this world. I never thought that I would live through these times. That I would see Ukraine in such a place."
The Western city of Lviv was filled with refugees. For a few weeks, she slept on the floor of a friend's three-bedroom apartment with 20 others, while she established a base for the non-profit, non-governmental organisation (NGO) she co-founded and directs, Smart Medical Aid, which provides medical aid, training and support to help victims of injury and trauma.
She now has a local team of 30, and has kept up extreme hours; sleeping only a handful of hours a night, between phone calls and emails hustling for donations and support, and co-ordinating supplies.
Nine ambulances were supplied via Ireland with support from the Irish Government, the Association of Ukrainians in Ireland and Medical Help Ireland. Six trucks have been sent from Ireland, UK and Sweden, and more than $100 million of supplies and equipment delivered to 30 hospitals near the front lines.
Irish donors have also funded a CT scanner and C-arm x-ray machine, and 40,000 gold-standard, combat application tourniquets were bought with other donations.
"I have turned into this crazy person who says 'Hello', and then says, 'How much money do you have? Can I have money towards this?'" says Rybinkina, who works with the Ukrainian health and defence ministries.
She hired a crane and trucks to search through rubble in the northern town of Borodyanka.
"They pulled out 26 bodies," she says.
"Every day is a crisis here."
• More information about Smart Medical Aid and how to donate can be found by clicking HERE
The NGO has helped get injured children medevaced to the Czech Republic, where they receive world-leading trauma surgery and care, free of charge at Motol University Hospital in Prague.
Rybinkina delayed the Weekend Herald interview to arrange that escape for a 5-year-old boy, who was attacked by Russians when his family fled the besieged city of Mykolaiv. His mother and grandmother were killed, and his father badly injured.
"He's got shrapnel in his brain. I saw his CT scan today . . . we will get him out.
"And we tried to find a 6-year-old boy, whose mother was raped in front of him and then killed. And he had no family left. Or a 6-month-old whose parents were shot.
"It's just a constant cry for help. There are endless stories."
The World Health Organisation has verified more than 100 attacks on healthcare facilities and transport like ambulances, killing 73 people and injuring 51, including the infamous strike on a maternity hospital in Mariupol.
There are 1000 health facilities close to conflict areas. Ukraine's former deputy health minister, Pavlo Kovtoniuk, has shared photos of hospitals with sandbagged windows on social media, writing, "created for humaneness, care and compassion; but redesigned for war".
Treatment of chronic conditions has almost stopped in some areas. People queue outside pharmacies for life-saving medicines, including insulin, but are often turned away.
Drivers have come under fire getting Smart Medical Aid deliveries through contested areas.
Lviv is relatively safe but air raid sirens still sound - "you sleep through them," Rybinkina says - and a fuel facility near her offices was destroyed by missiles.
Rybinkina's 2-year-old daughter, Alexandra, is happy in the Netherlands and already picking up Dutch.
However, her son Daniel, 9, was enjoying his time at Stonefields School before being moved again, and is old enough to realise what's happening.
"He obviously notices the news and he knows that his mum is there. He wants to make sure that his mum is safe. And he worries a lot about it," Veldhuijzen says.
Those bulletins are nightmare fuel; hospitals overwhelmed with people without arms and legs after a Russian strike on a crowded railway station, people dying of suffocation after being locked in a basement, the rape of children and women, some of whom got pregnant or were later executed, civilians killed with hands tied behind their backs, mass graves, nursing home residents dying of hunger, cities turned to rubble.
"Even if the war would stop today, to get Ukraine back on its feet, it's going to take decades. It was a very flourishing country, with beautiful people," says Veldhuijzen, who, between childcare and working at a local hospital, performs a key administrative role for Smart Medical Aid.
"They have been bombarded back decades, for no reason at all.
"There's nothing good in it. It is only evil. I wish that after so many years of civilisation that would have been rooted out. And then you see it there, in a structural, organised scale. It almost makes you lose faith in humanity."
A counter-weight has been the support and donations, from around the world including Rybinkina's Auckland Hospital colleagues. But the unmet need is huge, and fresh horror awaits as the Russians concentrate their attacks on the country's east.
Rybinkina, who was born and raised in Kyiv to a Ukrainian mother and Russian father, seethes when talking of the invaders. That anger is also reserved for the international response.
"Everyone is watching us burn and die.
"[The Russians] come intentionally to rape our children and women, and sex traffic people across the border. In the occupied areas they are actually taking people [back] inside Russia.
"Some cities have 85 per cent or 90 per cent housing destroyed. Just missile after missile, with people inside under the rubble … for what? I just don't understand what they're trying to achieve."
An escalation in New Zealand's response was announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this week, including sending a C-130 Hercules aircraft to Europe with 50 Defence Force personnel, to help transport and distribute donated military aid to Ukraine.
An extra $13 million will fund military and legal and human rights support, including contributing to weapons and ammunition procurement by Britain.
The extra money brings total NZ support for Ukraine to $30m. Sanctions have targeted Russian officials, oligarchs and their families, and a 35 per cent tariff has been slapped on Russian imports.
"Such a blatant attack on a country's sovereignty is a threat to all of us and that's why we too have a role to play," Ardern said on Monday.
National Party foreign affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee says the package must be part of a "continuum" in support, given New Zealand is contributing far less than other countries, including Australia.
He has called on the Russian ambassador to NZ, Georgii Zuev, to be expelled. The Russian embassy has made social media posts justifying the invasion and denying documented atrocities as false "provocations" - something Brownlee has said is blatant propaganda playing to the "gullible and stupid".
New Zealand was enjoying a last summer before another global shock, the spread of the Omicron variant, when Rybinkina and her family flew to start a new life on December 1 last year, her 40th birthday.
The barbed wire of MIQ opened to a blissful 37 days around the South Island. They walked Roy's Peak in Wānaka, tracked down Lord of the Rings film locations and marvelled at how scenery completely changed within an hour's drive.
The decision to abandon that Kiwi dream was sudden. They are still paying their Auckland lease, which is now effectively an expensive storage facility.
"We had only started settling in. And we bought some fish for the pond. I don't know if they're still alive - we asked the neighbours to feed them," Rybinkina says.
"Maybe one day I will come back. We're still not married. And I think my dream wedding would be like somewhere on a glacier. It's the best scenery in the world."
At the end of the month, she will leave Ukraine to see her family for a couple of days. There's talk of another trip for a family wedding.
"I'm trying to prepare myself to go and be normal. And I don't think I can be normal … I feel like I'm going to be a burden on my family.
"Jacco says I will have a lot of PTSD … I don't think I'm dealing with anything right now. It will come at a later stage."
For now, the work is too urgent.
One of the children evacuated to the Czech Republic was a boy who was in a playground that was hit by a missile blast. The 5-year-old had severe injuries including to his back.
"We had a phone call saying that, when he got [to Prague] it was the first time he didn't scream through the night, because they gave him proper analgesia [pain relief].
"And that the operation went well. And he would walk again."
Rybinkina feels guilty for leaving her family. Her daughter cries during every video call.
"But I know my children are safe. I know that no missile will fly into their playground.
"And here, no child is safe."
• New Zealand dollar donations to Smart Medical Aid can be made to the account 04-2021-0101352-13 (Account holder is SMART Medical Aid). Further information is available at https://smartmedicalaid.org/donations