A soldier receives a thank you note made by a child during a concert held at Kyiv military hospital.
One afternoon in Kyiv, an intimate outdoor concert has gathered an excitable crowd. Some of Ukraine’s most popular artists – including Oleksandr Ponomaryov and Alyosha, two former Eurovision Song Contest finalists – are about to perform.
The stage is not swamped by screaming teenage fans, however. Instead, the front row is reserved for wounded, wheelchair-ridden soldiers, casualties of Ukraine’s war of independence.
Here, at a special event in Kyiv’s military hospital, they are the celebrities. Paper hearts hang from trees surrounding the small square in the heart of the closed-off compound, bearing words of gratitude for the war heroes from ordinary Ukrainians. Each artist climbs off the stage after performing to hand a bouquet of flowers to the honorary guests.
“This is the least we can do to show our gratitude to these men, to alert society to what they have done for us,” says Maxim Radetskyi, the concerts organizer. “We plan to organize more such events for them in the future, all across Ukraine.”
With the help of social media, Radetskyi brought together a team of volunteers to help organize the concert. People helped in any way they could, he says. A local restaurant chain provided food free of charge, and its employees along with all other workers on the site – from security guards at the hospital entrance to the ground’s cleaners – had agreed to work at the event for free.
Wounded soldiers at a concert organized in their honor at Kyiv military hospital.
The goodwill has not gone unnoticed by the injured soldiers. Eduard Solovor, 25, says that the emotional support he and his comrades have received while fighting Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has been crucial in upholding morale.
“We gathered great strength from the Ukrainian people, from those who believe in us and inspire us. We can’t win without that support. Ukraine was divided before this crisis, but now the people have really come together,” he says.
Solovor came under heavy gunfire during fighting outside the city of Luhansk on June 27. One bullet hit his mobile phone, which was in the right pocket of his trousers. Disintegrating upon impact, it embedded thousands of fragments in his right leg. The doctor was forced to amputate. He told Solovor he had never seen anything like it in his 33 years of experience as a military surgeon.
Standing at Solovor’s side is his wife, Alina. She takes the Kyiv Post aside and reveals that her husband had suffered an injury to his heel several years ago, which had restricted the movement in his right leg and could have exempted him from military service. He chose to fight anyway. “Thank God he lost his bad leg,” she says.
25-year-old Eduard Solovor lost his right leg while fighting Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s east.
According to Lev Holik, the hospital’s deputy director, 127 soldiers wounded in the government’s campaign to recapture Ukraine’s eastern regions are currently being treated at the facility. The turnover is high, however, with patients discharged daily and others arriving to take their place. On a day of particularly heavy losses the hospital received 150 soldiers, Holik says, adding that a team of psychologists works round the clock with the men.
The hospital’s head surgeon, who asked to withhold his name as he was not authorized to speak with reporters, says the soldiers suffer from a range of injuries. Many have been left without limbs as a result of indiscriminate shelling by both sides in the course of the three-month conflict.
The enterprising spirit behind the concert’s organization extends to the general work of the hospital. Holik says medicines worth over Hr 5 million ($427 million) have been donated to the facility since the military conflict began.
A large part of that assistance has been secured by the Volunteer Hundred, an offshoot of the EuroMaidan movement named after the “Heavenly Hundred,” the popular term applied to activists killed by police forces during mass protests in Kyiv last winter. The organization now works at military hospitals across the country to improve soldiers’ conditions, raising public awareness and money through its Facebook page.
One of its volunteers, 29-year-old Valeriya Kislukhina, says she gave up her previous job as a financial officer at an electronics company to take charge of accounting at the Volunteer Hundred station in Kyiv’s military hospital. Every day people arrive at the facility in their cars, bringing bed sheets, medicine, food and even used kettles and wheel-chairs. One person recently bought several iPads for the soldiers, she says.
Boxes of food and other items are delivered to Kyiv military hospital every day by ordinary Ukrainians.
Living conditions at the hospital are good, with each ward equipped with a TV and all necessary amenities. The walls are plastered with cute pictures drawn by children, complete with messages wishing the men a speedy recovery. Outside the main accommodation block, 23-year-old Anatoliy Tutumnyk entertains passers-by as his sister leans on the back of his wheelchair and laughs.
The Dnipropetrovsk native is a real personality, and something of a celebrity at the hospital. He joined the army in 2008 as a 17-year-old fresh out of high school, and was initially based in Sevastopol, the second city on the Crimean peninsula which was annexed by Russia in March. In 2011 he left and joined the reserves, signing up to fight as soon as the conflict in Ukraine’s east began. On his chest he proudly displays a “Glory and Honor” medal, awarded to him by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
He gives an enigmatic response when asked to recount his story. “All of us have the same story. There is no individualism here,” he says, referring to Ukrainians fighting the war against the insurgents in the country’s east.
Tutumnyk’s brigade was ambushed on June 19 during an offensive against separatist positions near the town of Krasny Lyman. The unit retreated and subsequently staged a second advance. An intense gunfight broke out, and Tutumnyk was struck by several bullets. One went through his passport and military documents, which he kept in the pocket of his uniform.
Anatoliy Tutumnyk watches on as artists perform at Kyiv’s military hospital. The 23-year-old received a medal for bravery while fighting separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The 23-year-old is making a steady recovery, and is now able to walk on one leg. The other, which he keeps propped up, remains in a cast. As he speaks, his gaze is slightly offset: shrapnel from a mortar has embedded itself in his right eye, leaving it a deep red.
Despite his injuries, Tutumnyk is desperate to return to the front and join his comrades. “I’d go right now if they let me,” he says, raising himself up in his wheelchair as if preparing to leave. His sister, who drove to Kyiv as soon as she heard news that he had been transferred to the capital for treatment and now spends every day with him, says he repeats this every day.
Most of the soldiers at the hospital stay in touch with members of their unit on a daily basis, and all agree that the war in eastern Ukraine has reached a new level. Army forces fighting to secure the border are now being fired at from both sides, they say, from areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists as well as from Russia itself.
“It’s a hopeless situation. We can target rebel positions, but we can’t fire back at Russia, even though they fire at us. If we did, a real war would break out,” says 29-year-old Sasha Shvetsov.
Kyiv Post staff writer Matthew Luxmoore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @mjluxmoore.