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A wounded soldier reflects on his recovery

by SuperiorInvest

NEW YORK — “He wants to know if he can shake your hand,” said translator Roman Horodenskyi as he stood next to a 20-year-old Ukrainian soldier.

“He’s only had his arm for two weeks, so he’s still getting used to operating it,” added his translator during a November interview with CNBC. He then told Horodenskyi in their native Ukrainian that he could practice the greeting.

The 6-foot-3 Ukrainian Marine smiled and held out his right arm, a lightweight blend of silicon, carbon fiber, and thermoplastic. The several-thirty-kilogram gentle soldier took several deep breaths, looked down at the dynamic limb, spread his fingers, and slowly gripped the reporter’s hand.

A sigh of relief and another smile appeared on his face.

“He lost an arm and a leg in a mine explosion,” said Horodenskyi’s translator Roman Vengrenyuk, a volunteer Revived soldiers Ukrainea non-profit organization dedicated to transporting wounded soldiers to the US for specialized medical care.

Horodenskyi, a double amputee from the Russian war, is one of 65 wounded Ukrainian service members to benefit from the work of the nonprofit, which provides treatment in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Orlando. Vengrenyuk has accompanied Horodensky to New York for events over the past few months that have raised awareness of what has now become a tragic, year-long Russian push through Ukraine.

“He was found by our nonprofit and he’s only 20 years old. He’s got a lot more life ahead of him,” Vengrenyuk told CNBC, adding that they formed a fast and deep friendship.

The president of Revived Soldiers Ukraine, Iryna Discipio, said in a separate interview with CNBC that the effort to help wounded soldiers “is extremely important.”

“Ukraine is focused on waging war and we are helping the heroes left behind. We are helping the Ukrainian military by taking care of wounded soldiers,” Discipio said.

“It’s also important to show here in the United States the outcome of this war,” she added.

Affectionately referred to as the “Miracle of Mariupol”, Horodenskyi was one of the Ukrainian defenders who survived the Russian bloodbath in the strategic port city last spring.

Mariupol’s first line of defense

A man holds a child as he flees a Ukrainian city on March 7, 2022.

Aris Messinis | AFP | Getty Images

In the early hours of February 24, Russian troops poured across the Ukrainian border as rockets flashed across the dark sky, marking the start of the largest air, sea and land assault in Europe since World War II.

For months before the all-out invasion, the US and its Western allies had watched a steady build-up of Kremlin forces along Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus. The increased military presence mimicked Russia’s moves ahead of its illegal annexation of Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula that sparked an international uproar in 2014 and prompted sanctions aimed at Moscow’s war machine.

The Kremlin has denied all along that its colossal troop deployment along the Ukrainian border was a prelude to an attack.

Since Russia invaded its former Soviet neighbor a year ago, the war has claimed the lives of more than 8,000 civilians, led to nearly 13,300 injuries and displaced more than 8 million people, according to UN estimates.

Meanwhile, the brutal conflict forever changed the lives of many soldiers like Horodenskyi who survived their ordeal.

At the time of the invasion, Horodenskyj was serving with the 36th Ukrainian Marine Brigade as a machine gunner near Mariupol. Following the example of the men in his family, Horodenskyi joined the army when he was 18 years old. He traded his hometown of Odesa, a populous village on the Black Sea coast, for the once industrious port city of Mariupol on the southeastern Sea of ​​Azov.

By April, the marines in Horodenskyi’s unit were the first line of defense in a city that was home to 400,000 people before the war.

His unit was scattered around the perimeter of the Illich Iron and Steel Works, Europe’s largest producer of galvanized steel, when Russian fire hit his position. Horodenskyi moved behind the tree.

Although he remembers the mine explosion that took off his left leg and tore off his right arm, the aftermath is a blur.

He remembers his fellow Marines moving him, the pressure of the tourniquets and the rush to the makeshift field hospital.

“I was in this dark basement shelter with other wounded soldiers. There was hardly any medicine, supplies or food. Really nothing,” Horodenskyi recalls.

For just over a week, he holed up at the site with his “brothers,” as he calls them, until the last of his painkillers, bandages, water and ammunition ran out. Meanwhile, Russia bombarded the depleted Ukrainian marines and continued to advance on them.

“His commander made a difficult decision to surrender to the Russians, and the wounded were taken to a field hospital in Donetsk,” Vengrenyuk said. “There was a pro side in that facility [uninjured] prisoner, another for wounded Ukrainian soldiers and a separate area for wounded Russian soldiers.”

Horodenskyi detailed a terrifying account of his nearly three weeks in a Russian military hospital. Russian soldiers staying at the hospital, who could move on their own, were allowed access to an open room where wounded Ukrainian soldiers were kept. They openly beat, harassed and tortured Horodensky and his friends, he said.

He remembered a group of Russian soldiers at his bedside poking at the exposed bone sticking out of his right shoulder. The soldiers took turns interrogating him while grabbing the bone and twisting it, he said.

He remembers the excruciating pain.

While in hospital, Horodenskyi’s condition rapidly deteriorated and Russian surgeons amputated what was left of his right arm. In May, he became septic, a condition that threatens organ failure, tissue damage and death if not treated quickly.

Horodenskyi, afflicted with sepsis and with a life expectancy of no more than a week, was returned to the Ukrainian military in a prisoner exchange.

“The Russian commander apparently didn’t want Roman to die in their hospital because then he couldn’t be used as a bargaining chip to get one of them released,” Vengrenyuk said. “But he is young and his body was strong enough to survive.

‘Thinking of everything you’ve been through’

Roman Horodensky, 20, poses with a prosthetic arm at a clinic in the United States after losing a limb during combat in Mariupol, Ukraine, while fighting for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Photo: Roman Vengrenyuk

Horodenskyi underwent nearly a dozen surgeries in his hometown of Odessa before traveling to the United States, where he was fitted with prosthetics.

In September, he received a prosthetic leg in Orlando and then an arm in Eddystone, Pennsylvania, about 30 minutes from Philadelphia.

“To think about everything he’s been through,” certified prosthodontist Michael Rayer Prosthetic innovations at Eddystone, he told CNBC when asked to reflect on Horodenskyi’s journey.

“Just the nicest guy,” he added.

Rayer recalled that when he first met Horodenskyi, he saw that the Russian amputation had left only about an inch and a half of humerus in his right arm. It made the process of fitting the prosthetics difficult.

“He really didn’t have a lot of real estate to work with,” Rayer said. “There’s a lot of weight being transferred to that little residual limb, so we spent a lot of time refining the prosthesis to make sure it was comfortable.”

“Our office has a lot of experience with polytraumas, which are people who have lost multiple limbs, which adds a whole other layer of care,” he said. “Because how do you put on one of your lower limbs when you only have one arm, or if you have no arms?”

Roman Horodensky, 20, poses with a prosthetic arm at a clinic in the United States after losing a limb during combat in Mariupol, Ukraine, while fighting for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Photo: Roman Vengrenyuk

Rayer, who spent a total of eight weeks with Horodenskyi, said the prosthetic arm he received could cost up to $70,000.

“We donated all of our time and were able to do it in about half the time,” Rayer said.

Rayer added that it can take months to years to fully master the prosthesis. He said that while each person takes a different amount of time to adjust, he noted that in his work with Ukrainian soldiers, he found that “they are very mechanically sound.”

“They really understand how something works and they understand how to make it work for them. I don’t know if it’s their military training, but they all seem to have adapted really quickly,” he added.

After receiving care in the US, Horodenskyi returned to Ukraine and proposed to his girlfriend, Viktoria Olianiyk, whom he had been dating before the war broke out. The couple got married in Ukraine in December.

Horodenskyi’s injuries have not dampened his desire to return to the military, as Ukrainian troops are holding out against Moscow’s might longer than anyone outside the country expected.

“I really want to get back into the fight,” he told CNBC in his native Ukrainian, pausing for Vengrenyuk to translate.

“My whole country is fighting fiercely and many of my brothers are still imprisoned,” he said.

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