KHARKIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – It is night when the fire brigade in the city of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine is called out to the site of the latest Russian missile strike.
A school has been hit. Nobody is hurt but the building is partially destroyed and there is a huge blaze. Among those in the fire engine racing to the burning building is Nils Thal, a professional firefighter from Germany.
Together he and the Ukrainian firefighters try to douse the flames and search the rubble in case anyone is trapped there.
“I felt kind of guilty laying in Thailand on the beach while something like this is going on. And this is why I decided to come here to help,” Thal told Reuters back at the station.
Thal, who is on sabbatical from his job in his home city of Nuremberg, said his father had initially pressed him not to go.
“In the beginning, my father said ‘Don’t do it’. Just stay in Poland or drive a truck or anything or take care of the refugees, for example,” he said.
But Thal said he had decided to come to where his help is needed most – on the frontline. Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, has come under heavy attack since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24. Hundreds of civilians have been killed and many injured.
Russia denies targeting civilians in what it calls a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine says Russia launched an unjustified war of aggression aimed at taking swathes of territory.
Thal said once his sabbatical is over he will request unpaid leave in order to return to Ukraine.
“If you want to live in a civilised world, we have to do something, that’s it. And I am kind of proud to stay on the right side of history here,” Thal said.
(Reporting by Vitalii Hnidyi; Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Janet Lawrence)