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The human cost of the war in Ukraine: the amputees

Wars have a high cost, paid by the countries that start them, the soldiers who fight them and the civilians who suffer from them. Territories are gained and lost, and sometimes they are recovered and lost again. Other losses are permanent. The lives that no longer return. And the members.

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abound in Ukraine the stories of people who suffer amputations and must accept a new personal reality. For some, the loss of a part of their body is equivalent to death. And accepting that loss is like being reborn.

For soldiers injured while defending their country, faith in their cause helps psychologically. Among civilians, being maimed while making a living in the midst of a horrific conflict poses an often tougher struggle.

For the men, women and children who lost limbs in the Ukraine war, now in its third month, the process is just beginning.


The explosion that took Olena Viter’s left leg also killed her son Ivan, a 14-year-old boy with a lot of potential as a musician. Her husband Volodymyr buried him in the garden of the house, under a world cup, along with another child killed in the same explosion. Amid the fighting, they were unable to bury him in a cemetery.

“What do I do to live without him? He will always be in my heart, the same as the fragment that killed him, ”said the mother.

Olena Viter is transferred to a stretcher before undergoing surgery at a kyiv hospital on May 10, 2022. An explosion blew off part of her left leg, killing her 14-year-old son. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

When she is alone, Olena cries.

On March 14, bombs rained down on Rozvazhiv, the town near kyiv where Olena lives. Ivan and four other people died. About twenty, including Olena, were injured.

At first, “I wondered why God allowed me to live,” Olena, 45, said, her voice breaking.

When he found out that Ivan had died, he asked a neighbor to find his rifle and shoot him. Volodymyr told her that he could not live without her.

She now bears the pain of losing her son and the suffering associated with losing her leg from the knee down.

“Every day a new pain arises,” Olena said. “I wonder which ones will emerge in the future.”

He still hasn’t accepted what happened.

“For now I do not accept being who I am today,” he said. “I liked to dance. Do sports. Now I don’t know what I’ll do. I have to learn new things.”

Olena speculates that perhaps she survived for a reason, to help others, volunteer, or donate to a music school as a tribute to Ivan.

“Right now I don’t know what I want to do. I have to keep looking. I have to learn to live. I do not know how”.

Yana and Natasha

On a clear day on April 8, 11-year-old Yana Stepanenko went to Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine, together with her mother, Natasha, and twin brother, Yarik, to board a train for evacuees. Yarik stayed at the station with his bags while his mother and her sister went to buy tea. Suddenly a missile fell. The world went black and there was silence.

Natasha fell to the floor and couldn’t stand up. She saw that her little daughter’s leggings were hanging where her feet should be. There was blood everywhere.

“Mommy, I’m dying,” Yana said, crying.

Mother and daughter suffered serious injuries. Yana lost part of both legs, while Natasha lost her left leg from the knee down.

Yarik was uninjured.

The father of the twins passed away from cancer several years ago and the stepfather is fighting on the front lines. That is why Yarik must now take care of his mother and his sister. He wanders the halls of the hospital, pushing wheelchairs and carrying food.

Natasha has a hard time assimilating what happened.

“Sometimes I feel like it didn’t happen to us,” she said through tears.

He suffers for his daughter. “I can’t help her as a mother, I can’t lift her up, help her move,” she lamented. “I can only support her in words, from my bed.”

Yana is eager to get up and resume her life. She misses her house and her friends, and she can’t wait to get a prosthesis fitted.

“I want to run again,” he said.


Alexander Horokhivskyi, known as Sasha, is in pain and angry. He winces as he massages the stump on his left thigh, where his leg was amputated on April 4, nearly two weeks after he was injured.

He was shot in the cufflinks by a Ukrainian soldier who mistook him for a spy because he was taking photos of bombed-out buildings near his home in Bobrovytsya, a city in the Chernihiv region, after leaving a bomb shelter.

Sasha Horokhivskyi meditates on a balcony of her hospital room in kyiv on May 4, 2022. Sasha had part of her leg amputated after being shot by a Ukrainian soldier who mistook him for a Russian spy.  (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Sasha Horokhivskyi meditates on a balcony of her hospital room in kyiv on May 4, 2022. Sasha had part of her leg amputated after being shot by a Ukrainian soldier who mistook him for a Russian spy. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

He was questioned for 90 minutes by police before being taken to a hospital overflowing with patients. Days later he was taken to a hospital in the capital, kyiv, where doctors said his left leg had to be amputated to save his life.

Sasha, 38, an avid tennis player, found out about the amputation after the procedure.

“How dare they do this without my consent?” he complained. Between the meds and the pain, he doesn’t remember much. “I cursed quite a bit,” she admitted.

His experience was painful, both physically and psychologically. He fears that he will not be able to play sports or travel again. The injustice of everything overwhelms him.

“I tried to understand how this happened. Especially in the first week. I couldn’t think of anything else.” It would have been different if he had suffered injuries in combat. But getting hurt like that is very hard.”

He has talked to a psychologist and improved a bit. “There is no point in thinking about the same thing” as at the beginning, she declared. “Because you can’t change anything.”


There had been no electricity or water for two or three days in the Chernihiv basement where Nastia Kuzik, her parents, a brother and 120 others sought refuge. Tired of the dark, she decided to go out and go to her brother’s house, who lived in the area, for a while.

Upon returning to the bomb shelter, the 21-year-old heard an alarming noise. She left running. She was a few meters from the entrance to the shelter when an explosion knocked her to the ground.

He lost consciousness from time to time. When he opened his eyes, he saw his brother, who told him that everything was fine. But nothing would be the same anymore.

Doctors did what they could to save his leg, to no avail. They had to amputate part of his right leg from the knee down. The other also suffered fractures.

Now he is undergoing painful rehabilitation therapy and trying to get used to the new reality.

“I accept it,” he declared.

Her positive attitude, however, abandons her at times and she sheds a few tears.

“I never thought this could happen to me. But now that it happened, what can I do?

Try to be optimistic. He speaks German and teaches the language to some children. He always wanted to study in Germany. In early May, she was evacuated and taken to a Lepzig rehabilitation center.

It is not the way in which he would have wanted to fulfill his dream, but he affirms that he will try to make the most of the situation.


Lidiya Gladun lost contact with Anton, a 22-year-old army doctor posted to the front lines in eastern Ukraine, for three weeks. Until someone sent him a Facebook post from a nurse at a Kharkiv hospital. Anton Galdun was in the hospital. Did anyone know anything about him?

Lidiya contacted the nurse, who didn’t give her many details about Anton’s condition. When he was sufficiently recovered, she called his mother. She asked him to bring her some clothes to the hospital.

“He asked for flip flops. Until one day she said she didn’t need them anymore.”

Anton believes he was injured by a cluster bomb that hit his unit as they were retreating on March 27. He lost both legs and his left arm. His right suffered injuries.

He was in a coma for several days. When she regained consciousness, “I smiled. I thought everything was fine,” she recounted. “That the most important thing was that he was alive.”

But at night I had nightmares and very ugly hallucinations. A volunteer psychologist visited him. With his help, the hallucinations disappeared. And he no longer has nightmares. In fact, he does not dream of anything.

He can’t wait to get his prosthetics and start walking again. He assumes that his military career is over, but he wants to study computer science.

What helps him, he says, is his “conviction that if I get sad and cry about what happened, it will be worse.”

Photojournalist Emilio Morenatti lost his left leg while covering the conflict in Afghanistan in 2009. “When part of your body is amputated, you become part of the disabled community and inevitably a camaraderie arises,” Morenatti said. “My need to access this group outweighs any impediment: I am fascinated by comparing experiences, amputee to amputee. That is why I am no longer interested in covering the war on the front lines, but rather behind it, where all that remains is the visceral testimony of the cruelty associated with this damned war.”

Source: Elcomercio

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