The blind Ukrainian amputee whose wife’s voice kept him alive

Connie Queline

The blind Ukrainian amputee whose wife’s voice kept him alive

As Serhiy slowly began to regain consciousness in his hospital bed in Kyiv, he realised he couldn’t see, speak, or feel his legs – but he could hear his wife Valeria’s voice. Comforted, he lost consciousness again.

It was a pattern that lasted weeks. The severely injured Ukrainian soldier would wake up to darkness and panic, unable to communicate because of the tube down his throat – but every time he heard Valeria, he settled down.

“That’s what kept me fighting,” he tells the BBC’s Ukrainecast podcast.

“Until then, I only had nightmares. Terrible dreams in which I was being demolished, destroyed, chewed over – and then the light in regaining consciousness was her voice… Because I wanted to come back to her. To fight through this, to be with her.”

Serhiy, 27, suffered catastrophic injuries when his vehicle hit a Russian anti-tank mine on Ukraine’s frontline near Mariinka, nine months after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of his country.

As a soldier already serving before the war, he had been thrown straight into the thick of the fighting from its first day, in February 2022. He often went weeks without speaking to Valeria, who remained in their home city of Kyiv.

Serhiy pictured in military clothing

He was travelling with seven other soldiers on November 2022 when the vehicle was hit. The force of the blast broke his spine, pelvis, nose, eye sockets, gave him an open-skull brain injury, severe burns to his face and body, fractured his thigh and blew off both his lower legs. The flames from the blast cauterised his wounds, inadvertently saving his life.

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He can’t remember anything from that day – but Valeria will never forget it.

“I didn’t expect he would come back from the war with both his legs,” Valeria says. “But even I wasn’t prepared for the extent of his wounds when I saw him.”

“My first thought was just relief that he was alive because, by the description of what happened to him, it was not clear that he would ever regain consciousness. So I went to the hospital and I saw my beloved, full of different tubes, totally unresponsive. And that was scariest part.”

Serhiy and his wife, Valeria, before his injuries

Serhiy regained consciousness after 20 days in a coma. He then spent another week in intensive care, another two weeks in the traumatic injuries unit and then months in rehabilitation.

He has a stoic approach to his injuries, and says that, for him, losing two legs is better than losing one arm. Valeria takes a similarly pragmatic approach: “A blind, legless husband – it’s not so bad,” she laughs, adding that as a former dentist she’s just relieved he didn’t lose his teeth.

Last week, after travelling to the US in the hope of saving a fraction of the sight in his remaining eye, he was told the devastating news that it couldn’t be saved – that he had fully lost his eyesight.

Although the couple were disappointed, they remain hopeful for the future and Serhiy now wants to spend his life advocating for and helping his fellow injured soldiers.

“I have so many plans that one lifetime isn’t enough for all of it,” he says. “I definitely will go back to Ukraine. That’s my country. I fought for it. I sustained [my] wounds for it.”

Serhiy in front of water

He plans to launch two organisations, he says, both aimed at helping wounded veterans, including one to build infrastructure for their life after the war.

Both Ukraine and Russia refuse to release figures of their wounded and dead soldiers, but US officials, quoted by the New York Times, put the number at 70,000 dead and as many as 120,000 injured, as of August 2023.

While Serhiy maintains that his injuries haven’t changed him, Valeria disagrees.

“He has become more responsible. He was responsible before, but it was his family, his military unit,” she explains.

“But now he feels responsible for the whole country, for all of Ukraine.”

Additional reporting by Arsenii Sokolov

Related Topics

  • War in Ukraine
  • Disability
  • Ukraine
  • Veterans

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