This is day ten in the purulent surgery department for Oleksiy Lytovchenko. We meet Oleksiy in the yard of the military hospital. A volunteer pushes his wheelchair, while Oleksiy finishes a cigarette and washes down the smoke with a sip of instant coffee. Walking next to him are several students from a Kyiv high school. They learned about Oleksiy online and decided to visit him. The walk comes to an end and we all enter the surgery department building. We sit to talk in the hallway of the second floor. Oleksiy says the mood in his hospital room isn't good.
Oleksiy is from Odesa and in May  he will turn thirty. He was building a cottage for himself and his family and also did facade work on high-rise buildings before the war. He shows us photos on his telephone of him working at a height of 70 meters – without safety equipment.
- It’s adrenaline. You can live the perfect life without alcohol.
- So people who like extremes work there?
- You could say that. But this is also a highly skilled job. A true male profession. Then the war happened. I got a call from the military recruitment office. I must do my duty. To whom did I swear an oath?
Though Oleksiy found himself in a dangerous male profession, he is actually educated as a lawyer.
– I was a cadet for five years. I studied law and worked in the field. But because of corruption I didn't want to stay in this system. They push through their own people and take bribes. I inquired about an internship in the prosecutor's office. But the man said his son wants a car. The internship would cost around 12 thousand dollars. I hope we now have young professionals who will be hired without bribes. We must somehow build a country. We have this opportunity right now.
Did you support the Maidan?
– I was ill at that time. But I wanted to go to the Maidan just to pull people out of the fire. Everything was a little silly on both sides. There were many provocations, many people suffered. Yanukovych should have left the Verkhovna Rada, removed the cops and let the people deal with the ministers. The people were pushed to the brink. The cops got what they deserved because they had gone crazy.
When had they ever done something good? Only a handful served the law. Others stole, shook people down. Dirty cops took our apartment on Arnautska Street. My mother bought it with money she earned. The apartment was registered under my grandma. They framed her for all sorts of crap, and she signed the papers swapping a new duplex apartment for a one-room in Nadvirna, Ivano-Frankivsk region. The documents are all in their name now and there's nothing anyone can do. Many cops did a lot of horrible things. Not the police but dirty cops.
Do we have a chance to change the system?
– No, it's the system; you can’t break it. The system will break you. There may be more ideological people now, but the lure of money will always be there. And if there's temptation, there will be problems. When you kill the dragon you become the dragon.
At the front, Oleksiy was deputy commander for personnel.
-I was responsible for people, weapons, and equipment. I looked after people so that they didn't lose their documents and themselves and that they understood why we were here. There are some people who are already older, but they still do not understand. There are idiots and alcoholics. If someone drank for 30 years, he will continue to drink under any circumstances – even war. This is a mistake of incorrect selection. One lousy sheep spoils the whole flock. But all the guys in my unit were perfect.
Oleksiy's unit was in the town of Hornyak, Donetsk region.
- Where did you live?
- In dugouts.
- How was everything set up?
– Well, we even had a generator that volunteers brought. We laid electric cable. But everything had to be within reason. Electric kettles or stoves are not permitted because they use too much electricity. What we really needed was to charge our phones, charge the radio and have lights. Nothing more. There is a hearth, there are pots, tea and coffee. We even had brewed coffee.
Volunteers and relatives helped. We had money from organizations. There was a store nearby. There was administrative leave – we went to stock up on supplies. We are still on our land; we are not occupiers.
Everybody ate what they wanted. Some ate at the kitchen, while others prepared food themselves. The kitchen has a special chef. Everything was based on mutual understanding. This is a war. You just say: "You and you are helping in the kitchen tomorrow." We cooked for the whole unit: soup, buckwheat porridge with meat, everything as it should be. The meat was stewed, of course, not fresh. But, sometimes we got fresh meat. The only problem was that water in the bottles would freeze overnight.
What is the daily schedule like in war? You barely sleep. Who's going to sleep? It's a terrible feeling waiting for an attack. You want to eat, and at the same time, you do not want to have a gag reflex. You always want to sleep. You always want to use the toilet.
-At around 8:30 am on January 29th we came under fire of grad rockets. First there was an explosion, and then I felt as if I was shoved. I looked and saw that my bone was sticking out and my artery had burst. I tried to move my toes, but everything was paralyzed. At this moment I understood then that my leg was gone. I had two fellow infantrymen, Vlad and Ivan, who pulled me over and bandaged my leg with a tourniquet. Then they called the paramedic. The paramedic gave me a shot. It was very hard and painful. I was taken away on a so-called stretcher – a bedspread – put on a truck and covered with a bulletproof vest. I was driven to the hospital on a dirt road. It was a stupid old car and shook me a lot. When we reached the city there was a drunken paramedic and nurse. I don't remember anything. Then I woke up in Mechnykov Hospital [in Dnipropetrovsk] without a leg. I took it in okay.
The shock wave snagged my kidneys too. I had a big problem with my kidneys; I couldn't go to the toilet. Thank God, I had dialysis. I had 30 dialyses.
At Mechnykov Hospital they didn’t treat me, but they traumatized me. Finally they remembered about me — finally military doctors intervened, thanks to my mother and wife. Then I was flown to Kyiv. I am grateful to ICU doctors and surgeons. Here they coddled me. But at Mechnykov Hospital they just scoffed at me. Here I was brought back to life. My blood loss was incompatible with life; I had lost 3 liters. I also caught pneumonia, and at first they thought it was tuberculosis. After a month in ICU I was transferred to the purulent surgery department.
We had equipment, but it wasn't in good condition. The Ministry of Defense provided us only with twenty percent of what we needed. Everything else came from people and volunteers. We hung children's letters and drawings in the dugouts. They're little things, but it's nice. War is war, but in the dugout after tea all the discussion is about peaceful times because everyone has someone waiting for them at home.
Soldiers are professional killers – on both sides. Everyone has to know what side he's on and what he's fighting for.
Locals brought us a sheep, juice and bowls of dumplings. While others poked us in the back with sticks shouting: "Russia is with us! What the hell are you Nazis doing here?” Who are you going to convince? A stool that is 50 years old cannot be redone. In general, the locals treated us okay, but a small percentage wishes death on everyone. Although we had no problems when we were there.
It's not for me to judge what the LPR [Luhansk People’s Republic] or DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic] is. But if we leave, they will kill half the population because they supported us.
Why are they so aggressive?
-Because the Donetsk bandits always had a grip on them. That's where such aggression came from. They were told that we are Banderites [followers of WWII era Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera]. The criminal mentality remains. People live in a state of dispute. It's no secret that throughout its existence Donetsk spoiled the air for Ukraine. It constantly cut off the oxygen. Now Ukraine has taken on Donbas. But who needs this ruined Donbas? Does Russia or Ukraine need it? It's all a pretext for the genocide of the Ukrainian people.
As the saying goes: "You Ukrainians are not good enough". But who's the fascist, and who's the Nazi? Here, look at my leg – it was taken by a brotherly people.
Did you see Russian military?
-Who the hell knows; they don’t wear signs identifying themselves. This is a criminal group without distinctive symbols.
There was one defector. Even in our brigade. It was clear since training. An idiot who graduated from the law academy, whose father always did everything for him. I don't know how he became a reserve officer in the military department. As I understand, he worked in the police and then was fired. He then worked in a prison, but was kicked out of there too. And they smashed up his car because he was supposedly for Ukraine. But he switches sides like shit in a hole. He gave an interview and said how bad everybody was in our unit. But he just owned money to half the guys in the unit. He just ran away.
Many of them surrender. They don’t need war. Many were taken at gunpoint as well.
I have a wife and we have a baby on the way. When I was wounded she went with me to all the hospitals, along with my mother. I survived because of their prayers.
I was sitting on a bench after work in the courtyard. She sat down opposite me. It turned out that we live in the same building. That's how we met. She has health problems now. I'm worried. I had wanted to meet my wife when she left the maternity ward, but as you can see, that won't happen. I thought I would go on vacation after the war. But in the end she had to care for me.
We didn't have any dumb guys. They all had one or two advanced degrees. No one knew this would happen. Nobody even thought: who, what, where, why. We simply knew this is necessary. If there are too many questions, everyone will just save his own ass. And it will all be over.
My leg still hasn't healed. It hurts. They're phantom pains. I'm talking to you now and it hurts.
When you're a young and handsome guy in uniform, it's attractive. Girls like walking arm in arm with a guy in uniform. But when you go to work, (because it's a job like any other), you're covered in dirt. When a bullet from a Kalashnikov enters the human body it makes a hole in it. When it exits it removes a piece of flesh. Where is the romance in that?
Even with the prosthesis I will need two years to learn to walk again. And two years is a long time.