Now unable to fight, two Ukrainian amputees walk to raise money for a military hospital

KYIV, Ukraine — The task of the Ukrainian war veterans was clear: Oleksandr Shevtsov and Serhiy Hrapko walk 120 kilometers (75 miles) from different cities and meet somewhere in the middle to honor their comrades wounded in the Russian war against their country.

They shared their walk on social media and began collecting donations to raise funds to supply medical equipment to Ukraine’s main military hospital. Their walk has also inspired many across the country – both were seriously injured in Russia’s last war with Ukraine in 2014 and had to have their limbs amputated.

Since men could not participate in the current war, they found other ways to contribute to the fight.

“My brother-in-arms, Serhii Khrapko, called me. We’ve known each other for a long time. He said, ‘Sania, our hospital needs help,'” Sevcov said. Her nickname is Sania. “This is truly our dear hospital that saved our lives. It saved my right leg,” he said.

“This is how we can help our brothers in arms and our country in some way. Because our country is really fighting now. We’re all fighting the best we can.”

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Hrapko, who is missing an arm and runs with a prosthetic leg, left Kyiv on May 15 at 3:05 p.m. Sevcov, who has a prosthetic leg, started the race three hours earlier from Zhytomyr. Five days later they met on the road, taking a total of 165,156 steps towards each other in five days.

They raised 3.1 million hryvnias ($84,000), short of the 500,000 hryvnias ($14,000) needed to purchase a new gastroscope for Ukraine’s National Military Medical Clinical Center.

The 38-year-old Sevtsov was called up for military service nine years ago, when pro-Russian separatists seized government buildings in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region and declared the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic independent states, starting the war for the region.

On July 4 of the same year, he was hit by shrapnel from an attack in the suburbs of Luhansk, which severely damaged a major artery.

At the hospital, doctors worked desperately to restore blood flow to his limbs. Despite all their efforts, the operation was unsuccessful, and his left leg was amputated.

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He was released after six months of surgery, one of his legs was saved.

But then Sevtsov’s private battle began.

He could not wear the prosthetic leg provided to him. He stood for a long time in his bathroom, next to his bed, he said. What would others think? He thought. He thought his friends would feel sorry for him and he couldn’t bear that feeling. He was even ashamed to go out in his wheelchair in the yard in case someone saw what had happened to him.

He was then sent to Austria for rehabilitation training. The experience changed him. He saw people from all walks of life, from children to the elderly, walking confidently with their artificial limbs.

He told himself, “I will never be in a wheelchair again.”

Before the war broke out in 2014, Khrapko, 45, was a carpenter, making furniture for kindergartens. He was mobilized at the start of the war and served in the Army’s 30th Mechanized Brigade.

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In July 2015, a year after Shevtsov was injured, Khrapko was killed in a mortar attack, also in the suburbs of Luhansk.

His injuries were much more serious. The entire left side of Khrapko’s body was wounded. He lost both an arm and a leg when he entered the military hospital. He has undergone more than 20 surgeries.

The walk was Khrapko’s idea; he remembered when a hospital employee told them they were in dire need of a gastroscope. So he called Sevtsov and told him that they needed to raise “a few million” hryvnias.

“Exactly how many are some?” Sevcov reports that his friend asked on the other end.

“More than 3,” his friend replied. “You are walking from Zhytomyr, and I am going to Kiev to meet. This is how we raise this money.”

Khrapko admitted that he developed some calluses after the long trip. “But it’s not a big price,” he said. “It’s a drop in the ocean compared to what’s happening in the east.”