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Frostbitten in a cellar, hiding from bombs in Ukraine

Emergency Rehabilitation

Vadim spent the winter hiding in a cellar in Bakhmut, where the deadliest battle of the war in Ukraine was waged. He developed severe frostbite in his legs, requiring amputations.

Vadim is receiving rehabilitation treatment from HI’s teams at St Luke’s Hospital in Lviv, Ukraine.

Vadim is receiving rehabilitation treatment from HI’s teams at St Luke’s Hospital in Lviv, Ukraine. | © O. Marikutsa / HI

Vadim recently told his story to Ruslan, Humanity & Inclusion's physical therapist who has been working with him since his operation. "The Boss," Vadim jokingly calls him.

“Thank God I’m alright! It's thanks to the medical teams. Without them, I wouldn't be here, you know. I'm so grateful to them for saving my life. I'm alive!”

Hidden away in a cellar

It's hard to put into words the hell Vadim experienced. How long did it last? Two weeks, maybe three. An eternity for Vadim. He lived hidden away in the cellar in Bakhmut, the site of a deadly battle that lasted for many months. One day, during a lull in the fighting, Vadim went out to buy food. When he returned, his house had been bombed. Where could he go? A friend advised him to hide in the basement of a building. So, Vadim found shelter in the cellar of one of the city's theaters. It was the middle of winter, with no heat or electricity. Because of the extreme cold, his legs developed severe frostbite.

Vadim was finally evacuated from Bakhmut with the help of Ukrainian volunteers. He was rushed to Lviv where he was taken to the Burn Unit of St Luke's Hospital, the reference hospital for the most serious cases.

"My legs had turned black. There was no other option. They had to amputate."

Essential rehabilitation for Vadim

Ruslan, the physiotherapist who is treating him, shows him some exercises to do on his own once he is out of hospital. Shortly after his operation, Vadim met Ruslan, one of HI's physical therapists, who specializes in post-amputation rehabilitation.

"We explain to patients how to take care of themselves in the future, how to do their rehabilitation exercises on their own so they can continue their treatment once they’ve left the hospital," Ruslan explains.

Vadim has to do a series of exercises to prevent numbness and to work his muscles, so they don’t contract and stiffen. He doesn’t know how long he’ll be in hospital, or where he will go afterwards.

"Who knows what's going to happen? Nobody," Vadim says. "Obviously, I'd like the war to end, but unfortunately I don't think that will happen anytime soon.”

Supporting hospitals in Ukraine

Humanity & Inclusion supports eight hospitals in the cities of Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv and Dnipro.

In Lviv, HI trains national physical therapists to support burn patients, which was previously available in Ukraine. HI also provides direct rehabilitation services at St. Luke's Hospital, with the support of the European Union and USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance.

Like Vadim, many of the injured patients are displaced people from the East of Ukraine who have been evacuated to Lviv for treatment. In 2022, more than 350 patients with severe burns and complex trauma injuries received specialized rehabilitation services in Lviv. Early rehabilitation intervention significantly helps patients to return to functionality, resume daily activities and restore their independence.

Date published: 07/12/23


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