Kyiv, Ukraine — The task for the Ukrainian veterans was clear: from different cities, Oleksandr Shevtsov and Serhii Khrapko would walk 120 kilometers (75 miles) and meet somewhere in the middle in honor of their comrades wounded in Russia’s war against their homeland.
Their march was shared on social media and they started collecting donations to raise funds to provide medical equipment to Ukraine’s main military hospital. Their march was also an inspiration to many across the country – both men were seriously injured in the last major war between Russia and Ukraine in 2014 and required amputations.
Unable to participate in the ongoing war, men have found another way to contribute to the fight.
“I received a call from my brother in arms, Serhii Khrapko. We have known each other for a long time. He said, ‘Sania, our hospital needs help,’” Shevtsov said. Sania is her nickname. “It really is our dear hospital, the one that saved our lives. It saved my right leg,” he said.
“This is how we can help our brothers and sisters in arms and, in a way, our country. Because our country is really fighting right now. We all fight as we can. »
Khrapko, who is missing an arm and running with a prosthetic leg, left kyiv on May 15 at 3:05 p.m. Shevtsov, who has a prosthetic leg, had started the race from Zhytomyr three hours earlier. Five days later, they met on the road, having taken a total of 165,156 steps towards each other in five days.
They raised 3.1 million hryvnias ($84,000), just short of the 500,000 hryvnias ($14,000) needed to purchase a new gastroscope for the National Military Medical Clinical Center of Ukraine.
Shevtsov, 38, was called up for military service nine years ago when pro-Russian separatists seized government buildings in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region and proclaimed the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic , as independent states, triggering war for the region.
On July 4 of the same year, he was hit by shrapnel during an impending attack on the outskirts of Luhansk, which caused severe damage to a major artery.
Doctors at the hospital worked frantically to restart blood flow to his limbs. Despite their best efforts, the surgery did not work and his left leg was amputated.
He was released with one leg saved after six months of surgery.
But then Shevtsov’s private battle began.
He couldn’t bear to wear the prosthetic leg that had been provided to him. He stayed in his bathroom for a long time, near his bed, he said. What would others think? He was thinking. He believed his friends would pity him, and he couldn’t stand the feeling. He was even ashamed to come out and sit in his wheelchair in the yard, he said, in case anyone saw what he had become.
Then he was sent to Austria for rehabilitation training. The experience changed him. He saw how people from all walks of life, from children to the elderly, walked confidently with their prostheses.
He thought, “I’ll never sit in a wheelchair again.”
Before the start of the war in 2014, Khrapko, 45, was a carpenter and made furniture for kindergartens. At the start of the war, he was mobilized and served in the army’s 30th Mechanized Brigade.
In July 2015, a year after Shevtsov was injured, Khrapko was hit in a mortar attack, also on the outskirts of Lugansk.
His injuries were much more serious. The entire left side of Khrapko’s body was injured. He had lost an arm and a leg when he was admitted to the military hospital. He underwent more than 20 operations.
The walk was Khrapko’s idea; this came to mind when a hospital employee told them they desperately needed a gastroscope. So he called Shevtsov and told him that they had to raise “a few million” hryvnias.
“Exactly how many is a few?” asked his friend on the other end of the line, according to Shevtsov’s account.
“More than 3,” replied his friend. “You will walk from Zhytomyr on foot, and I will walk to Kyiv to meet you. This is how we will raise this money.
Khrapko admitted he may have acquired calluses after the long jaunt. “But it’s not a high price,” he said. “It’s a drop in the ocean compared to what’s happening in the east.”