Records were made wherever and whenever possible – in dugouts, between the battles, on wallpaper, exercise books, office books…

Handwritten partisan journals were kept together with important documents. They contained facts and figures interspersed with stories about the daily grind, battles and heroes. Handmade 'books' were pepped up by pictures and unfailing sense of humor. They were circulated to raise morale. They were read to draw strength.

"We had to operate on carts, on the ground, or in dark peasants' huts. We used any tools we had available. Hacksaws to amputate limbs, moonshine for anesthesia… People often died or were disabled by diseases or injuries which could be cured in normal conditions..."
Photos from the museum's archives
The situation was particularly daring in the winter of 1941–1942, partisans would recall in the journal "Rogachev partisans against German invaders" in June 1944. A whole section of this handwritten edition is dedicated to medical service. The situation started to get better only in the second half of 1942 as first field hospitals were set up deep in the woods, and those badly injured got a chance to survive. But that was later. In the first severe winter of the war when the partisan movement was scattered, there were no medicines, no doctors, no proper conditions to help the wounded…
Surprisingly, partisans did not fall ill often during the war. Medical aid was needed for the injured and people with typhoid and scabies. Nobody treated colds. In difficult cases, the sick were given hot wraps, herbal and berry brews. Pneumonia was treated with medicines if those were available.
Photos from the museum's archives
Sheets, towels, linen obtained from locals were used as bandages. Parachute fabric was a real treasure: it was used to bandage wounds, and its silk threads were used to sew wounds up. Sometimes contact persons obtained medicine and gauze from the Germans in exchange for eggs or lard. Cotton wool was "extracted" from blankets and jackets were often provided by locals. Wood, tree cortex and twigs were used as plaster splints. However, handling the wounded was the biggest challenge. It could not but affect the maneuverability and combat capacity of a partisan unit. During encirclements by punitive expeditions, the seriously wounded were taken to a safe place. Partisans usually took them to small islands amidst bogs hoping that they would not die before they came back for them.
The first field hospitals dubbed 'Yalta' were set up in dense Klichev forests for severely injured partisans from Rogachev District and Zhuravichi District in the summer of 1942.
They were arranged in dugout shelters and managed by a superintendent. There were also secret field hospitals. One of them was described by partisans of Rogachev Brigade No.8 in their handwritten journal.
"Some partisan units set up secret field hospitals in other places in addition to 'Yaltas'. Such a secret field hospital was arranged near the village of Khimy, Stolpnya rural council, Rogachev District. It was located in a boggy place surrounded by bushes from three sides. It was a perfect camouflage. Fritzes would never think of a partisan field hospital close at hand, near the village.
As the partisan movement gained momentum, partisans established closer contacts with the partisan HQ that sent doctors, paramedics and much-needed medicines to them. Medical units were set up and a new position – head of the medical service – was instituted.
Makeyev-Kocherevsky family. Y.P. Kocherevskaya (left) and M.T. Makeyev (right), the Ponomarenko unit of the Shturmovaya Brigade, Minsk Oblast, 1937
Doctor's bag and medical instruments of M.T. Makeyev (right), a doctor at the Ponomarenko unit of the Shturmovaya Brigade, Minsk Oblast
Photos from the museum's archives
"A skillfully disguised small tent is protected from air strikes. Beds are covered with bed sheets, blankets, there are pillows. Bottles, jars, boxes with medicines are on tables, under tables, in tables and in every spare corner," reads the Komsomolskaya Iskra journal, Issue No.2, as of October 1943, describing the field hospital of the Komsomol unit, Minsk Brigade No.1.
The partisans also wrote about head of the medical service of the unit, nurse Zinaida Duben: "The young head of the medical service and the command spare no effort to save the wounded... Zinaida accompanies the partisans on every mission and is always there for help."
Zinaida Duben, a graduate of the Borisov nursing school, was drafted into the Red Army in the first days of the war. She worked in an evacuation hospital in Borisov. Later, the hospital was evacuated to Saransk and Zinaida went there, too. In May 1942, the young nurse was summoned to Moscow. She was to study at a special school, and then go to the enemy rear. On 22 August 1942 Zinaida Duben joined the partisan unit named after the Pravda newspaper (Minsk Oblast). Komsomol member Zinaida participated in ambushes, special missions and, together with the partisans, derailed enemy trains.
Z.A. Duben, the head of the medical service of the Komsomol unit of Minsk Brigade No.1, 1942
On 1 January 1943 Zinaida Duben was transferred to the Komsomol unit. Her task was to set up a medical unit and rescue the wounded, including on the battlefield. In 1944, Zinaida Duben was awarded the Order of the Red Star.
Photos from the museum's archives
The photos of the nurses and doctors from different partisan units and brigades courtesy of the Museum of the Great Patriotic War History:
T.V. Borzova, a nurse of the Kotovsky unit of the Budyonny Brigade, Pinsk Oblast, 1944
L.V. Yakimova, the head of the medical service of the Chapayev Brigade of the Brest Command, 1944
Dentist A.M. Danilyan of the Chkalov Brigade, Baranovichi Oblast, 1944
Partisans' Hospital exposition, Hall No.7, the Belarusian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War History
L.M. Arestovich's medical instruments
L.M. Arestovich, the head of the medical service of the Frunze unit of the Suvorov Brigade of the Minsk Command, 1947
During the Great Patriotic War, as many as 570 doctors and 2,095 medical workers made part of partisan units in Belarus. Risking their lives they did everything possible to save others, performing surgeries in dangerous and harsh conditions on the battlefield and in dugouts.
Handwritten journal "Everyday Life of Rogachev Partisans", June 1944
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© Belarusian State Museum of History of the Great Patriotic War, 2018