The Kyiv City Burn Center intensive care unit smells of chlorine, like a swimming pool. Three soldiers lie in transparent glass boxes that resemble aquariums. Inside the middle one is Vadym Dovhoruk, 23 years old, from the Special Forces – 3rd Regiment in Kirovohrad.
In 2010 when I was 18, I decided to join the army. I’m a scout.
I finished high school and construction trade school. And then I went to the army. It's more fun serving in the army than working in construction. I wanted something extreme, some sort of romance. Military training exercises were interesting: skydiving, for example. I jumped from a height of 600 and 800 meters. We were in freefall for four minutes, but the time flies. The rest of the extreme I experienced in the ATO.
My mom is a teacher and my father is a mechanic. Mom teaches biology and chemistry. But I went to another school, not the one where my mom teaches. It's not cool going to the same school; you can’t skip class or be late. I don't like school at all.
I have cousins. My father and cousin are here with me now. My aunt lives in Kyiv, she comes to visit too.
In Vadym’s hospital room next to various souvenirs and gifts on the windowsill hangs a gold medal.
There is a man that comes here. He's 52 years old. He and his brother swim. They won some competition and dedicated their victory to us. One medal went to our officer in Irpin, and the other one they gave us.
Vadym doesn’t tell us what scouts do. Joking he suggests googling the answer.
From the military unit I immediately went to the Donetsk airport. I was there for a month and got my first injury. It was a minor gunshot wound. After that I was home for rehabilitation.
After rehabilitation Vadym headed to the front again. This time he was near Debaltsevo.
The locals treated us ok. Volunteers brought us food and different equipment. They handed out uniforms and machinery on the military base. But the stuff the volunteers brought gave us a chance to avoid many injuries.
I learned the news from friends. We also used the internet. We didn't take phones with us on missions. Pro-Russian rebels called some of the guys and threatened them. Some got text messages saying: "Surrender, things are good here” or "Poroshenko betrayed you all."
We lived in houses and camps in a group of ten people. There were guys from different regions, also scouts.
We were on a mission when we were ambushed. Yesterday I was informed about all the guys. Me and two others went missing. One of them was buried yesterday. The other is in the morgue in Dnipropetrovsk, but his parents have not taken his body yet. They recognized him, but are still waiting for the DNA test results. He was our commander. The other seven soldiers were taken captive.
We were ambushed on the second day of the ceasefire. We didn't stay in Debaltsevo. We went there by convoy but got ambushed.
We were in an armored personnel carrier when the shelling began. We didn't understand who had started it or where they were. I remember the wounded guys yelling. There was panic and lots of injured. I reached the forest by myself. I spent a little more than three days there. It was cold at night and my legs got frostbitten. Then I was found by soldiers of the LNR, who took me away. During the shelling only my arm was torn off, my legs were frozen in the woods.
I was taken to a hospital in the LNR. A nurse gave me a telephone and I called my mom. They immediately began to ask: "Why have you come here?" "Why couldn't you stay at home? We won’t come to you." I didn't reply. I just lay there and stared at the ceiling. What could I say? I was on foreign territory. I was afraid to sleep at night. Most of the patients in my ward were rebels.
Afghan War veterans organized the hostage exchange. On the 19th, I was taken to Luhansk, and on the 20th I was already taken to Kyiv. Somehow they made an agreement. There are contacts everywhere. Another guy was taken out with me. He was sent to Kharkiv, then to Kyiv, and now he is in Germany for treatment.
I didn't ask anybody if I can go to war. I chose this path myself.
The surgery is tomorrow. I need to wait for recovery. The main thing is to get well, and it doesn't matter where. Rehabilitation can be even abroad.
The majority of treatment rests on volunteers. They bring boxes of medicines to the doctor's office. During our conversation, Vyacheslav Mykolayovych stands in the doorway.
You can't even imagine how many volunteers, how many people and organizations are dealing with this issue. Our hospital has volunteers who have been working here since the Maidan. Transporting a patient to Germany or America is a very serious process, so other organizations help us. Our volunteers Lena and Oksana collect medications, coordinate people who bring medicine, disseminate information, handle accounts.
A week later Vadym is smiling; he is cheerful and looking forward to warmer weather when he can stroll around in his wheelchair on the street. He had already been discharged from intensive care and transferred to a regular room. He shares a video from Donetsk airport, filmed by his fellow soldiers. Together we listen to military songs written in this war. Near Vadym sits his father. He spent seven hours in a shaky train overnight, and in the evening he hits the road once again. He visits each Wednesday.
I live near Kirovohrad. Vadym lives separately. Vadym always wanted to serve. He chose such a path for himself. He served one contract for three years, and then signed a second one for five.
How many surgeries has Vadym already had?
– At least seven, I guess.
- And how many are left?
I like his attitude. He's positive. Psychologists came to him. He had to talk with them only once. He called them, and that’s all.
I tell Vadym in jest that the eastern climate is not suitable for him because he was at the airport for a month, and he was wounded; he was in Debaltsevo and also got wounded. He is still young, 23 years old. He has his whole life ahead of him.
People are dying, fighting, and for what? In the meantime our government is dividing up mandates and businesses.
I supported the Maidan, but I was disappointed. The people have changed a bit, but the country is the same. I think the war will last a long time. I just get the impression that someone is making money on this. War has always been a kind of business.
Friends and volunteers greet Vadym on his 24th birthday, four months after he was wounded, in a park near the Kyiv City Burn Center where he is undergoing treatment.
-I have a certificate that states I was disabled in the war, but I do not accept this title. At one point I was riding on the metro –I was in a wheelchair, before I had prosthetics – and I heard, “Let the disabled person through!” I clarified that I am not disabled, but wounded [in the war].
A year after being wounded Vadym is already walking confidently on prosthetic legs, which were fitted for him in Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. He now drives his SUV and is training his left arm in to be fitted for a prosthetic.
Vadym is also currently enrolled in a university in Kirovohrad and is studying to become a psychologist. He intends to work with combat veterans.