WOUNDS from a Nation in Transition
Revolution, occupation, war and acts of terrorism over the past three years have changed Ukraine forever. WOUNDS from a Nation in Transition is a documentation of young and middle aged Ukrainian soldiers and Maidan activists who have been severely wounded and maimed while defending their nation, their homes and their families.
Some of these men suffer from severe burns covering much of their bodies, many endure excruciating pain due to nerve damage, others lost their ability to walk while some are double, triple or quadruple amputees. Many are battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and others are addicted to painkillers. Each of these men has several things in common: Pain — severe physical and emotional pain and the daunting task of adapting to a new post-injury life. Oftentimes next to the men in the most dire condition are their worried wives, mothers and girlfriends who are left to pick up the pieces of war.
Family is a subject nearly all people can relate to. These images seek to portray stories of how families are profoundly and subtly affected as they adapt to the complex repercussions of the revolution and Russian supported war against their nation. It is through families who have been impacted physically, mentally and economically that we will gain insight into events in the country and how they are influencing society as a whole.
The international community takes notice of Ukraine at times, but even then, geopolitics and squabbling between EU leaders on how to react to Russian aggression is given prominence in the media. Ukrainians and their loved ones who are most affected by acts of war and terrorism are not even on the radar.
Officially, at least 10,000 people have been killed in the war and approximately 2 million people have been displaced. A central goal of this project is to create a better understanding of the human consequences behind these numbers, and more specifically, how families will be affected for generations by the revolution and war.
This war will not end quickly. It will continue in various waves of intensity for many years.
Images 1-6: Volodymyr Hanchorovsky, 31, married with 4 children, was severely wounded on February 20, 2014 when he was shot three times, twice in the back and once in the right arm, while attempting to reach wounded demonstrators who had been shot by security forces in central Kyiv during the Euro Maidan Revolution. Volodymyr underwent multiple operations in Ukraine and Germany but has significant and persistent issues, including extreme pain throughout his body due to nerve damage. This often inhibits him from receiving physical therapy.
- “I went to the Maidan on February 1st. I could not sit and watch the disorder [from afar] — the beating of children, students as well as their parents at the hands of riot police. I could not wait and watch…. My heart was being torn apart by what was happening in the State.” Volodymyr Honcharovsky is prepared for an X-ray at a hospital in Truskavetz, where he is undergoing physical therapy. Truskavetz, Ukraine, September 6, 2014
- Volodymyr Honcharovsky and his wife Oksana kiss in their home in Teofipol, in western Ukraine. “Life for us is very difficult at the moment. We hoped that he would slowly begin to walk again, but as you see, there have been no changes,” said Oksana. Teofipol, Ukraine, November 17, 2014
- “I taught myself how to give injections, so I don’t wake up my son, wife or mother in the middle of the night.”
Volodomyr Honcharovsky administers a dose of nalbuphine, a powerful painkiller, as his son Nazar sleeps. A daily dose consists of 1 or 2 injections. At times Volodomyr administers up to six injections in a day. Teofipol, Ukraine, February 6, 2015
- Volodymyr Honcharovsky sits in church after his son’s Christening. Teofipol, Ukraine, November 16, 2014
- Volodymyr Honcharovsky is assisted down a set of stairs after his son’s Christening. Proper infrastructure for the physically disabled barely exists in Ukrainian cities, towns and villages. Teofipol, Ukraine, November 16, 2014
- Volodomyr Honcharovsky propels himself in his wheel chair outside his village home. Svyatets, Ukraine, December 9, 2014
- “I am just very thankful that I already have children.”
Artem Zapototsky, 34, undergoes physical therapy in a pool in Truskavets. Artem was severely wounded while taking part in the Euromaidan Revolution on February 20, 2014, when he was shot in the back as he stood unarmed on the footbridge that crosses above Instytutska Street. The bullet damaged his spine before embedding near his left shoulder blade, where it remains today. Married and a father of two children, Artem is a lawyer from Lutsk. Dedicated and motivated, he aspires to regain the use of his legs and trains for approximately 6 hours a day while also continuing his work as a lawyer. Truskavets, Ukraine, September 6, 2014
- “Our life has changed completely,” said Svitlana Kapusta, 29. Svitlana wipes the brow of her husband, Sergeant Sergey Masan, a Ukrainian paratrooper from the southern Ukrainian region of Mykolaiv, as he recovers in a hospital in Dnipropetrovsk. Sgt. Masan sustained burns to 70% of his body and lost several fingers in a grad rocket attack in the village of Dyakovo in Luhansk Oblast near the Russian border. He spent approximately three months in the war zone and asserted that his brigade was frequently fired upon with grad rockets launched from the Russian Federation into Ukraine. Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, September 29, 2014
- “When the bullet struck me, I did not feel any pain at all. The first thing that I thought is that I had stepped on electrical wires. Then, after I fell, I felt so poorly I came to terms with the thought of my death. Then I remembered my family, children and wife… and decided I wanted to live.”
Oleksandr Kharin, 46, from Simpheropol in Crimea, is a husband and father of two teenagers. On July 10, 2015 a sniper shot him in the neck. Since then he has not been able to stand and can only partially move one arm. However, he has feelings in his arms and legs. He decided to join the Ukrainian army after the battle of Ilovaisk and after passing the medical commission was told to wait to be mobilized. He instead joined the OUN volunteer battalion and was based in Pisky where he was wounded. Kyiv, Ukraine, June 15, 2016
- “We were ambushed. I was informed yesterday about all the guys. Two others and I went missing. One of them was buried yesterday. Another is in the morgue in a Dnipropetrovsk, but his parents have not yet recovered his remains. They recognized him but are still waiting for the DNA test results. He was our commander.”
Vadym Dovhoryk, 23, a Ukrainian Special Forces soldier, lays in the intensive care ward at the Kyiv City Burn Center as a doctor looks on. Vadym was severely wounded on the second day of the cease-fire commonly referred to a Minsk II, which has not held. He is now a triple amputee. Kyiv, Ukraine, March 25, 2015
- Kateryna Panchenko (right), 20 years old and 7 months pregnant, cries over the body of her husband Edward, 22, at a morgue in Kyiv. Both are from the eastern Ukrainian city of Dniprodzerzhynsk. Mr. Panchenko. a soldier with the 93rd Brigade, was severely wounded in January during heavy fighting at Donetsk airport. He died at the Kyiv Military Hospital in the early morning hour of February 8, 2015. Kyiv, Ukraine, February 10, 2015.
“He was in intensive care for three days in Dnipropetrovsk, but I was allowed to visit. I brought him food and fed him. He didn’t complain. He didn’t cry. On the third day, he called and said that he was going to be transported by plane to Lviv. We waited for the plane, but it didn’t come due to bad weather. The next day, it turned out, he was transferred to Kyiv. I’m sure if he had been transferred to Lviv, he would still be alive.”
- Roman Kubishkin, a 41 year-old construction worker, is fastened and raised into a vertical position to rehabilitate his feeling of space and balance. This helps stimulate his brain to begin communicating with his body. Mr. Kubishkin joined the volunteer battalion Right Sector and was based in Pisky, a village near the remains of the Donetsk International Airport. Shells fired by Russian supported separatist forces on January 22, 2015 nearly killed him; in fact, his fellow soldiers thought he was dead due to a severe head trauma in which Roman lost much of the right side of his brain.
“Sixteen clinics refused to take Roman because his condition was severely critical. Nodus was the only one,” said his mother Iryna. Roman is cared for at Nodus, a modern neurological and neurosurgical rehabilitation center located in Brovary, outside of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. His monthly care costs approximately 70-80,000 UAH, ($3,000 – $3,300), which is largely funded by donations and volunteers.
“In the past 3 months my son has gained 10 kg and his face and body look completely different. He looks almost like a healthy person”, says Roman’s mother. Roman has completely lost the ability to move and communicate. At times he can carry out basic commands such as squeezing a hand or blinking two times in a row that illustrate that he recognizes a person who is looking at him. Roman breathes through a tube in his neck and he is fed through another tube that carries food directly into his stomach. Brovary, Ukraine, July 28, 2015
- “A prosthetic was ready for me in December 2014, but I did not stand on it for almost half a year. I was simply lethargic. My attitude was: I had a leg, and now I do not have a leg. I did not even want to wear it. I stayed home and did not want to do anything. In August 2015 I went for rehabilitation in Austria and in four days began to walk on the prosthetic. At home there was no motivation, but there I did not want to let down the doctors or my parents. The doctors there put on my feet and showed me exercises. I lifted myself up and began to walk, began to travel in Ukraine, began exercising, appeared in magazines and began meeting new people. It is important not to be idle.”
Ukrainian army veteran Andrij Zabihailo, 28, of Kryvyi Rih, takes part in a new fitness program for wounded soldiers at a CrossFit Banda gym in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. The aim of the program is to give wounded veterans a place to work out, a community and to show that life doesn’t end after being wounded in war. Prior to the war, Andrij worked as a police escort for Ukrainian Railways. In May 2014 he quit his job and joined the army where he served in the 17th Tank Brigade as a commander of a BMP-2. Andrij was severely wounded while carrying out his duties when an RPG hit his brigade’s position. Kyiv, Ukraine, May 26, 2016
- “If I was not a patriot, I would not have joined the army.” Taras Moklyak, 23, a grenade launcher operator from Ivano-Frankivsk, is comforted by Natalia, a close friend, at the Kyiv Military Hospital shortly before traveling to Germany for further medical treatment. Taras was mobilized in May 2014, and was wounded in the village of Starodubne. He has severe abdominal and pelvic injuries. Kyiv, March 19, 2015
- Viacheslav Buinovsky, 41, whose right hand and right leg were amputated, walks toward his girlfriend, whom he later married, as he takes some of his first steps using a prosthetic leg a prosthetics workshop. Viacheslav worked as a mechanic in Sumy Oblast prior to the Euromaidan Revolution, in which he took an active role. He volunteered for the Aidar Battalion after the Maidan and was severely wounded near Luhansk in September 2014. Kyiv, Ukraine, February 10, 2015
© Joseph Sywenkyj – Text and images