Ukrainian doctors are preparing for an increase in the number of amputees

LVIV, Ukraine — Vladyslav Tkachenko grimaced, clutching a wooden pendulum and stepping forward cautiously. Then he lost his balance, an...


LVIV, Ukraine — Vladyslav Tkachenko grimaced, clutching a wooden pendulum and stepping forward cautiously. Then he lost his balance, and his metal leg, fitted with his old combat boot, hit the ground. Undeterred, he stood up and pushed forward, staring determinedly at his reflection in the mirror.

“In his head, he’s already there, with his comrades,” said prosthetics specialist Viktoriia Olikh, hovering behind him. She is helping to equip Mr. Tkachenko, 25, with a limb he hopes will bring him back to the battlefield.

Mr Tkachenko lost his left leg on the second day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when an artillery shell blew it off and tore his right thigh, leaving a web of dark red scars. He is among the first in what Ukrainian doctors fear will become a devastating wave of amputations as Ukrainian forces push to regain territory and fighting in the east escalates.

This expectation sparked an international effort to bolster Ukraine’s supply of prostheses. But Nagender Parashar, owner of a Kyiv-based prosthetics business, is worried. “There are already hundreds of them. The numbers are frightening,” he said, referring to the number of Ukrainian soldiers who have lost limbs.

“We are about to lose many more lives and limbs.”

Mr Parashar, who came to Ukraine from India in the 1990s, studied computer science before starting a business importing prostheses. Dissatisfied with the quality of imports from China and eager to perfect his craft, he began disassembling and reassembling state-of-the-art German and Japanese artificial limbs. Today, it not only supplies sockets for foreign-made limbs, but also manufactures its own components at a factory in Kyiv, including hydraulic knees.

Ukrainians have acquired expertise in the science and art of prosthetics out of necessity. After Russia seized the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and the wounds of war multiplied, the conflict prompted many to train in the best institutions in the world.

But producing prosthetic limbs, a complex, high-tech undertaking, is expensive. The Ukrainian government, which funds health care in the country, is struggling to meet the costs. As a result, some prosthetic manufacturers went bankrupt. Others, like Mr. Parashar’s company, are still awaiting payments.

Nonetheless, Mr Parashar said he was increasing production at his Kyiv plant, moving to double and triple shifts.

International volunteers are also helping to fill the void.

Antonina Kumka, a Ukrainian-Canadian, founded the Ukraine Prosthetic Assistance Project after the Crimean conflict began in 2014. Supported by the American charity Prosthetika, she connects Ukrainian doctors by videoconference with specialists in the whole world. It also encourages prosthetic manufacturers overseas to make donations.

“We don’t want funding to send patients overseas – we need them to donate components,” she said. “Ukrainian specialists can do it here. It costs less and it’s better for the patient.

But many patients, including Mr. Tkachenko, remain wary of Ukrainian prostheses. He worries that the local doctors are moving slowly to finish his prosthetic limb because they are helping him for free.

“I thought I would come here and then a month or two later I would join the fight,” he said. “But I see now that it’s going to be a long process.”

Mrs. Olikh tried to explain to him the need to be patient, that his body needs time to heal. The area where a limb was amputated changes shape and size in the months following a traumatic injury, a process she says should be allowed to end naturally.

Hoping to encourage him, Ms. Olikh handed him a Parashar hydraulic knee to inspect. It would be added to her metal leg, she said, once her gait stabilized. He poked him and pushed him.

The type of knee doesn’t matter, he said, as long as it helps him achieve his goal of “getting back to my brothers and fighting.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Ukrainian doctors are preparing for an increase in the number of amputees
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