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The project of prostheses for wounded Ukrainian soldiers is growing – both in the Twin Cities and in Ukraine


Vadim Bourei’s two new prosthetic legs dangled on a beige sofa one recent afternoon. The muscular 44-year-old Ukrainian soldier was taking a break from grueling days learning to walk again. He flew to Minnesota to be fitted with prostheses by the Protez Foundation.

The group, formed by a Ukrainian prosthetist based in the Twin Cities, has grown exponentially in its six months of existence: a spacious new location at Slumberland’s Oakdale headquarters. Thirty-six Ukrainians, mostly soldiers injured in combat, received prostheses. Seven of these soldiers who returned to the front. And in March, a new clinic is set to open in a relatively safe part of southwestern Ukraine, where these wounded soldiers will go every three months for check-ups.

Every day, Ukrainians like Bourei come and go to the Protez Foundation clinic. As devastating war stories linger in their minds, they learn to live again.

A year ago, Bourei was “just an ordinary guy”, he said through a translator: an engineer in Chernihiv, northern Ukraine, married to the same woman he has been with for 24 years, father of two sons and a 5-year-old daughter. old girl – “the most amazing, wonderful and beautiful little girl.”

Then Russia invaded. Bourei joined the army. His parents’ town near Kharkiv was occupied by Russian troops for seven months. Bourei fought across the country until September 17, when Russian troops stormed a village near Bakhmut where Bourei’s unit was stationed. A Russian rocket slammed into his car, ripping off his right leg and crippling his left leg.

A companion pulled him out of the car and then went for help. For hours, Bourei stood by the road as a battle raged nearby. At one point he pulled out a grenade, preferring to blow himself up rather than be captured by the Russians – but he didn’t have the strength to pull the pin. After being rescued, both legs were amputated below the knee.

“God’s will is in everything,” Bourei said.

On January 5, four days after Bourei arrived in Minnesota, a Russian phosphorus bomb exploded near Bakhmut, where Bourei’s 23-year-old son was stationed. Chemicals burned her son’s eyes and throat. While Bourei sat on the couch in Oakdale, his son was still in the hospital.

“This is war,” Bourei said. “I really want to believe that everything will be fine.”

Ukraine will never be the same after the Russian invasion: cities reduced to ruins, tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians killed, generations traumatized.

But for the lucky few accepted into the Protez Foundation program, life will be a little closer to OK.

Nearly 700 Ukrainians applied for the program. Donation-funded organization has been transporting groups of Ukrainians here since summer: A 23-year-old army commander has lost a leg. A 9-year-old boy missing an arm. Bourei’s group, the seventh group the foundation has helped, returns home on Thursday; eight other soldiers arrive on Saturday.

Dr. Yakov “Jacob” Gradinar helped start the Protez Foundation while still a prosthetist at Limb Lab in downtown Minneapolis. The project quickly outgrew its space and Gradinar’s time. In October, he quit his job to work full-time for the foundation.

The past year has been filled with anxiety for Gradinar, who has family in Ukraine. He heard these men speak of horrific injuries and an uncertain future while expressing deep gratitude for life. Amid the horror, Gradinar was heartened by the outpouring of support for Ukraine.

“This year makes me feel like I appreciate life more and I see how life can be so fragile,” he said. “It’s a huge test for us to get this wrong and make it better, to be lights in this world.”

A year ago, Artem Tsymbal was 20, a law student in Kyiv. He joined the army after the invasion. On August 10, he was in a trench in eastern Ukraine when a Russian rocket exploded. He thought he was going to die. For eight hours it remained covered with earth and branches until the Ukrainians drove out the Russian troops. His left leg was amputated.

He came to Minnesota a few weeks ago for his new prosthesis. He does not know his future; because his amputation is above the knee, he will not be allowed to join the army.

“I want everything: a wife, children, a good life,” he said.

For Bourei, his stay in Minnesota changed his life.

“I had a lot of doubts about my ability to stand up on both legs,” Bourei said. “The hardest thing right now is getting up from a chair to stand up. You can’t curl your toes and grip. Five months ago I was just rolling around in a wheelchair. It’s very difficult not to fall into a depression. But everything changed when I came here. I want to leave all the darkness of the past and take only the light with me and live only with that.

Bourei then put both hands on the sofa and pushed. He swayed at first, then got up and walked hesitantly towards the door. He said he would keep working until he could race again.

After that? Bourei hopes to return to the army, become an officer and help Ukraine win this war.

startribune Gt Itly

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