FROM NORWAY TO UKRAINE
“It feels like my whole life has been leading up to this point. Everything I’ve done and everyone I’ve met has been leading up to this. It always felt right being here.”Sandra Andersen Eira
Sandra Andersen Eira is no stranger to high-risk situations. Before enlisting as a volunteer member of Armed Forces of Ukraine (UAF) in 2022, the Norwegian Sami native began her career as a fisherman, and went on to serve as a member of the Sami Parliament of Norway from 2017 to 2021.
“There’s a lot of politics that are more of a problem than a solution when you’re fishing in the Barents Sea for the coastal fleet. So, I did a four year term at the parliament, mostly dealing with the fishing industry. Made some changes, I’m happy about it, but I was never, well clearly, as you can see I was never a politician. I prefer being boots on ground, or hands on deck,” comments Eira when asked about her time in parliament.
Her years growing up in the Arctic and working at sea prepared her well for life at the frontlines.
“Being at sea and being in the military is not that different,” says Eira, “It’s mentally and physically challenging. There is no quick fix, there is no shortcut, you just have to prove your worth and do what’s required of you. You don’t have any, or little, comfort. It’s dangerous, it takes a toll on you, both physically and mentally.”
It’s not all struggle though. On her social media and in her interview with Strike Source, Eira speaks often and highly about her brothers in arms and her “boys”.
“You have your brothers around you, you live in your own community and your own world, talk in your own language, have your own sense of humor, and you always have each other’s back, because you rely on each other to make it,” she says, “When I first got here, the first deployment we did go to Moschun, even though we were stuck for five days with no food or heating, no place to sleep. It was not that strange to me, because I’m used to it at sea. Having my background growing up in the Arctic with outdoor schooling and land nav, sea nav, survival skills and then a decade at sea, with all that is to it, I was definitely prepared for this in a different way than if I grew up in a city, having an 8 to 4 job.”
Eira is now weathering her second Ukrainian winter with her team. She was recently in Bahkmut, a city in the Donetsk Oblast of Ukraine. Strike Source asked Eira how she would describe the general sentiment of the Ukrainians there.
“…in Bakhmut the situation was absolutely horrible. For me as a medic, of course I see it from another perspective I think, because I have to deal with all these human interactions, both KIAs (killed-in-action) and the injured and all this.”
Despite the difficulties, Eira remains positive about the outlook of the Ukrainians’ future.
“The Ukrainians are still going strong I would say,” she remarks, “They are like sponges when it comes to learning. There are luckily a lot of Westerners here on high levels that have been instructing the Ukrainians on tactics, or weapons systems, or anything really. That has definitely improved and helped a lot. Ukrainians are like sponges, they take it in so f*cking fast, it’s amazing to just observe.”
Coming from a strong culture herself, Eira recognizes courage when she sees it.
“They have bravery,” she says about the Ukrainians, “if it’s from the old Ukrainian traditions or it’s from the Kievan Rus viking heritage, I don’t know, but they have it.”
While in Bakhmut, temperatures dropped overnight from what the northern native considered a “mild” 0 degrees to a lethal -17. Eira empathized with the soldiers in the trenches who had to brave the constant shelling, artillery fire, and mortars on top of the treacherous temperatures.
Eira is now weathering her second Ukrainian winter with her team. Equipped with their many valuable lessons learned from the past year, she comments on how the Ukrainian troops have “upped their levels”, particularly in the recent controversial conflict in Soledar. There, Ukrainian forces continue to fight on despite Russia’s claims that their forces have already conquered the city.
But more deadly than their disinformation campaigns are the Russians’ unconventional tactics for demoralizing and disorienting the Ukrainian people.
“The Russians don’t give a sh*t about anything. They’ve already proven that they don’t give a sh*t about any war crimes or Geneva Conventions at all, since the very beginning. So why [would they] start caring now?”
She continues, “The damage was already done in February, so they just keep playing dirty with these missile strikes on mostly just civilian targets, and they know it. Why would you want to hit the apartment complex in the middle of the city when you know there are only civilians living there?”
She goes on to explain how Russian forces used rape, torture, and the targeting of civilian-populated areas to intentionally demoralize UAF troops. She confirms that the war crimes are a fact, and proposes that the Russians can get away with it because “there are no consequences for them.”
There’s a lot Eira wishes the world knew about the war. For Western civilians and their governments, and even Ukrainians living in the western half of the country, she wishes that they could see the reality of it all so that they knew “why it’s so important to help and keep helping with the donations. But also for the civilians that [have] been helping us along the way to know just how much the help matters.”
“I wish that I could just have a live-streaming Go Pro rolling all day every day so that people saw the reality of it all.”Sandra Andersen Eira
It’s that help from foreign supporters and governments that has assisted her team over the past year and supported their successes. When asked about her team’s high points during the conflict, Eira shares what is always at the top of her mind.
“One, we’re all alive. I think we are the only team that I know of that has had no significant casualties. We’ve had TBIs (traumatic brain injuries), but no significant casualties. That alone is a success in this war. When we had this deployment to Moschun, I would consider that a success, because none in our unit died, and they weren’t able to push as they were hoping to, I mean the Russians.”
She goes on to describe how her large network has also come in handy, “Logistically, I have been able to use my connections and resources a provide a sh*t ton, I don’t even know how many thousands of dollars of equipment, but a lot, from my connections in Norway, the U.S., Lithuania, Estonia… Been able to help a sh*t ton of people get the gear they need.”
Eira speaks matter-of-factly about her life in Ukraine, something that prompts many to ask why she is there. Without an obvious attachment to Ukraine, what motivated her to volunteer her life to fight for a country that is not her own? It’s a big question, she says, one that she hears not just from the media, but also from many Ukrainians.
“The colonel asked that question immediately when I came, because we were the first foreign combat unit to be deployed with foreign fighters. Even my closest friends in country have always asked me this, ‘why are you here?’ ‘why do you want to help us?'”
She is confident in her response.
“I’ve known that I wanted to be a combat medic since I was six years old,” she says, “I always assumed it was going to be in the Middle East. I did not expect a war with Russia, but here we are. So for me, it feels like my whole life has been leading up to this point. Everything I’ve done and everyone I’ve met has been leading up to this, and this is the first time I’ve felt like everything in my being is just content. It always felt right being here. Of course, it comes at a really f*cking high cost, but it feels right.
We all have our lives to live and we get to choose how we live it, so this is what I chose. And this far, it has felt nothing but right.”