Wounded soldier displays on his restoration

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

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

The 6ft 3in Ukrainian marine smiled and stretched out his right arm, a lightweight fusion of silicone, carbon fiber composites and thermoplastic. The meek 230-pound soldier took several deep breaths and stared at the dynamic member, spreading his fingers and slowly tightening his grip on a reporter’s hand.

A relieved breath and another smile crossed his face.

“He lost his hand and leg in a mine blast,” said Horodenskyi’s translator, Roman Vengrenyuk, a volunteer for Revived Soldiers Ukraine, a nonprofit organization that works to bring wounded troops to the United States for specialized health care.

Horodenskyi, a double amputee as a result of the Russian war, is one of 65 wounded Ukrainian military personnel benefiting from the nonprofit organization’s work, which is being treated in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Orlando. Vengrenyuk has been accompanying Horodenskyi to events in New York in recent months to raise awareness of a now tragic, years-long Russian attack in Ukraine.

“Our nonprofit found him, and he’s only 20 years old. He has so much more life ahead of him,” Vengrenyuk told CNBC, adding that the two had a quick, deep friendship.

Speaking separately to CNBC, Iryna Discipio, President of Revived Soldiers Ukraine, said efforts to help wounded soldiers are “extremely important.”

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

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

Horodenskyi, affectionately dubbed the “Miracle of Mariupol,” was one of the Ukrainian defenders who survived the Russian carnage in the strategic port city last spring.

The first line of defense of Mariupol

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 into Ukraine’s borders as rockets slashed across the dark sky, marking the start of the largest air, sea and ground attack in Europe since World War II.

For months before the full-scale invasion, the US and its Western allies observed a steady buildup of Kremlin forces along Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus. The increased military presence mimicked Russian moves leading up to the illegal annexation of Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula, in 2014 that sparked international uproar and unleashed sanctions on Moscow’s war machine.

The Kremlin has consistently denied that its colossal deployment of troops along Ukraine’s borders was a prelude to an attack.

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

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

At the time of the invasion, Horodenskyi was serving with the 36th Brigade of the Ukrainian Marines as a machine gunner near Mariupol. Horodenskyi followed in the footsteps of the men in his family and joined the military at the age of 18. He traded his hometown of Odessa, a populous municipality on the Black Sea coast, for the once-bustling southeastern port of Mariupol on the Sea of ​​Azov.

In April, the marines in Horodenskyi’s unit formed the first line of defense in the city, which was home to 400,000 people before the war.

His unit was scattered around the Illich Iron and Steel Works, Europe’s largest galvanized steel producer, when Russian fire rushed into his position. Horodenskyi went behind a tree.

While he can remember the mine blast hitting his left leg and shredding his right arm, the aftermath is hazy.

He remembers being taken away by his comrades, the pressure of the tourniquets and the rush to a makeshift field hospital.

“I was in such a dark basement accommodation with other wounded soldiers. There was hardly any medicine, supplies or food. There was really nothing,” Horodenskyi recalls.

For a little over a week, he and his “brothers,” as he calls them, sheltered on the spot until they ran out of painkillers, bandages, water and ammunition. Meanwhile, Russia bombarded the spent Ukrainian marines, and the troops continued to advance towards them.

“Its commander made the difficult decision to surrender to the Russians and the wounded were taken to a field hospital in Donetsk,” Vengrenyuk said. “In this facility there was a page for them [uninjured] detained, another for wounded Ukrainian soldiers and a separate section for injured Russian soldiers.”

Horodenskyi gave a chilling account of his almost three weeks in the Russian military hospital. Russian troops who were hospitalized and able to move independently were granted access to the open space where wounded Ukrainian soldiers were being kept. They openly beat, harassed and tortured Horodenskyi and his comrades, he said.

He recalled a group of Russian soldiers at his bedside, poking at the exposed bone protruding from his right shoulder. Soldiers took turns interrogating him while grabbing the bone and twisting it, he said.

He remembers the excruciating pain.

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

Plagued by sepsis and with a life expectancy of no more than a week, Horodenskyi was returned to the Ukrainian military as part of a prisoner exchange.

“The Russian commander obviously didn’t want Roman to die in their hospital because then he couldn’t be used as a bargaining chip for the release of one of their own,” Vengrenyuk said. “But he’s young and his body was strong enough to survive.”

“Thinking about everything he’s 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, during a battle for Ukrainian 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 prosthetic limbs.

He received a prosthetic leg in Orlando in September and then his arm in Eddystone, Pennsylvania, about 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia.

“Thinking about everything he’s been through,” certified orthotist Michael Rayer of Prosthetic Innovations in Eddystone 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 left only about an inch and a half of the humerus bone in his right arm. It complicated the process of fitting a prosthesis.

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

“Our office has a lot of experience with polytrauma, which is people who have lost multiple limbs, which adds a whole different level of care,” he said. “Because how do you put on one of your lower extremities when you only have one arm or when you don’t have any 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, during a battle for Ukrainian forces.

Photo: Roman Vengrenyuk

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

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

Rayer added that it can take several 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 working with Ukrainian soldiers, he found that they were “very mechanically adept.”

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

After receiving treatment in the US, Horodenskyi returned to Ukraine and proposed to his girlfriend Viktoriia Olianiyk, with whom he had been dating before the outbreak of war. The couple married in Ukraine in December.

Horodenskyi’s injuries have not dampened his desire to return to the military, as Ukrainian troops have withstood Moscow’s might for longer than anyone outside the country expected of them.

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

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

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