A Ukrainian soldier was told his legs could be amputated

A Ukrainian soldier was told his legs could be amputated. An American hospital could help him walk again

(CNN) Vladyslav Orlov, an officer in Ukraine’s National Guard, didn’t see what hit him, but the next thing he knew, the car he was traveling in last October overturned and was on fire. He suspected Russian gunfire.

Stuck in the back seat, Orlov said he was initially unable to get out of the vehicle – his feet were crushed by the car and his legs were injured from the blast. When he finally did, he and his team lay in the nearby grass, watching the flames and contemplating their next moves, incredulous that they had survived.

“Sometimes I really don’t understand what happened to me, I’m still somewhere on another planet,” Orlov, 27, told CNN.

Vladyslav Orlov stands in front of a tank marked with the letter Z typical of Russian vehicles.

February 24 marks a year since Russia launched its war against Ukraine – and ahead of us is what is widely expected to be a brutal spring of fighting. Thousands of soldiers and more than 18,000 Ukrainian civilians have lost their lives, according to the United Nations, and millions have fled. Cities and infrastructure across Ukraine have been decimated by the fighting and relentless shelling.

Orlov was eventually taken to a Ukrainian hospital. He was told he may have to have at least one leg amputated or may never walk again, partly due to the flooded hospitals and strain on resources after months of war.

He was told the focus was on saving his life, not necessarily his limbs.

“(There are) many wounded, you know?” Orlov told CNN. “Our doctors, all (work) hard like morning till night, work absolutely hard, but (there is) no vacancy, you know? (There isn’t) enough medicine because it’s war,” he said in limited English.

So the search began for another option – any option.

A 4,600-mile volunteer-led journey

Ashley Matkowsky, Orlov’s American friend and videographer who had worked in Ukraine, recorded what Orlov looked like after the attack.

This video caught the attention of some US volunteers and eventually reached Gary Wasserson, a retired American businessman from New York who was already coordinating relief resources for volunteers in the area.

“I got active and started making phone calls in the United States,” Wasserson told CNN.

Matkowsky, meanwhile, worked with the Ukrainian government to obtain permission for Orlov to leave the voyage and helped arrange transport to Poland. From there, Wasserson was able to get them plane tickets to New York.

Wasserson said he sponsored Orlov to come to the United States as part of the Uniting for Ukraine program, which offers Ukrainians a temporary way to come to the United States for two years if they have someone who can provide them with financial support can afford. Wasserson’s most difficult task was “getting the attention of Homeland Security to understand the urgency of the medical issues at hand,” he said.

“For me, I just keep pushing until I find the right buttons and luckily everything fell into place,” he said.

Take one step at a time

Wasserson asked the Specialty Surgery Hospital in New York if they could save Orlov’s legs, and optimistic they could, he was admitted.

dr Duretti Fufa, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in limb reconstruction, is now helping to care for Orlov. The hospital pays its surgery costs through its charity program, a representative told CNN.

Fufa described Orlov’s injuries as extraordinarily complex.

“The complexity comes from the fact that he had both soft tissue wounds and bony defects or missing bones from the blast injuries and the multiple fractures in each of his feet,” Fufa told CNN.

Since arriving in the United States in January, Orlov has already undergone “two very lengthy procedures to begin the major step of reconstructing his right and left foot,” with a diligence involving multiple specialists, Fufa explained.

Vladyslav Orlov is accompanied in the hospital by his girlfriend Ashley Matkowsky.

Orlov sees the progress so far as nothing short of amazing.

“It’s absolutely beautiful now! It’s like a full foot, oh my god,” he told CNN of his still very stitched and fragile left foot.

While Fufa is optimistic about the path ahead for Orlov’s feet, she is quick to point out that while rebuilding is one thing, the ability to walk again is not yet guaranteed.

“I warned him that this is such a long road that I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point we hit roadblocks where it feels like this is taking too long or that this is too challenging to progress any further.” put,” said Fufa.

After almost a year of war, Orlov hopes to return

Almost a year has passed since the start of the Russian war in Ukraine, and Orlov wishes nothing more than to be back home and defending his country.

“Of course I want to try,” he said.

He hopes he can walk again, but his hopes for his country are much higher – he said he wants the world to know it’s not just about two countries in the conflict.

It’s “not just about the war in Ukraine and Russia,” he said of the lives of the women and children who were lost or turned upside down in the fighting. “It’s about human rights.”