Belt of Ukrainian doctors for the increase of amputees
LVIV, Ukraine – Vladislav Tkachenko makes a face, grabbing a wooden railing and advancing cautiously. Then he lost his balance and his metal leg, fitted with his old combat boot, fell to the ground. Undaunted, he got up and pushed forward, gazing determinedly at his reflection in the mirror.
“In his mind, he is already there, with his companions,” said Victoria Oliikh, a specialist in prosthetics, hovering behind him. She is helping to frame Mr. Tkachenko, 23, with a limb that she hopes will bring him back to the battlefield.
Mr. Tkachenko lost his left leg on the second day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine when an artillery shell detonated it and tore his right thigh, leaving a web of dark red scars. He is among the first in what Ukrainian doctors fear will become a devastating wave of amputations as Ukrainian forces push for territory and fighting in the east intensifies.
This expectation sparked an international effort to support Ukraine’s supply of prosthetic limbs. But Narander Parashar, owner of a Kiev-based prosthetic company, is worried. “There are already hundreds. The numbers are appalling, “he said, referring to the number of Ukrainian soldiers who have lost their limbs.
“We are going to lose a lot more lives and arts.”
Mr. Parashar, who arrived in Ukraine from India in the 1990s, studied computer science before starting a prosthesis import business. Dissatisfied with the quality of imports from China and eager to honor his craft, he began disassembling and reassembling cutting-edge German and Japanese artificial limbs. Nowadays, he not only supplies overseas-produced limb sockets, but also manufactures his own components in a factory in Kiev, including hydraulic knees.
Ukrainians have gained experience in the science and art of prosthetics out of necessity. After Russia conquered the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and war-wounded multiplied, the conflict has prompted many to seek training at the best institutions around the world.
But manufacturing prosthetic limbs, an intricate, high-tech undertaking, is expensive. The Ukrainian government, which finances health care in the country, has struggled to keep up with costs. As a result, some prosthetic manufacturers have gone bankrupt. Others, like Mr. Parashar’s company, are still awaiting payments.
However, Mr. Parashar said he is expanding production at his Kiev factory, switching to double and triple shifts.
International volunteers are also helping to bridge the gap.
Antonina Kumka, a Canadian of Ukrainian origin, founded the Ukraine Prosthetic Assistance Project after the start of the conflict in Crimea in 2014. Backed by the US charity Prosthetika, she is connecting Ukrainian doctors via videoconference with specialists from all over the world . She is also encouraging overseas prosthetic manufacturers to make donations.
“We don’t want funding to send patients overseas, we need them to donate components,” he said. “Specialists in Ukraine can do it here. It costs less and is better for the patient “.
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But many patients, including Mr. Tkachenko, remain wary of Ukrainian implants. He is worried that the local doctors are moving slowly to finish his prosthetic limb because they are helping him for free.
“I thought I’d come here, and then a month or two later I’d join the fight,” he said. “But now I see it will be a long process.”
Ms. Oliikh tried to explain to him the need to be patient, that his body needs time to heal. The area where a limb was amputated changes shape and size in the months following a traumatic injury, a process she said she had to let go naturally.
Hoping to encourage him, Ms. Oliikh handed him a Parashar plumbing knee for inspection. It would be added to her metal leg, she said, once her walk calmed down. She hit him and pushed him.
The type of knee didn’t matter, he said, as long as it helped him achieve his goal: “go back to my brothers and fight.”