NEW YORK (PIX11) — The almost year-long war in Ukraine has taken its toll, with more than 100,000 dead or wounded. Those who survived are enduring the pain of healing from their injuries.
Many severely wounded Ukrainian soldiers have lost limbs and are being flown to the United States where humanitarian groups are outfitting them with prosthetics. Some lucky ones are being offered special visas to come here for treatment at some of America’s finest hospitals.
Vladyslav Orlov, 27, faced amputation of his legs last October after a Russian bomb blew up his car. But a stranger’s helping hand saved his legs from being removed.
“Russians catch me and blow up my car,” Orlov recalled. “The car blow up and they rush me to a field hospital.”
Miraculously Orlov survived the explosion, but his legs were severely mangled as he was pulled from the burning car. He was rushed to a military field hospital in the Donbas region of Ukraine that was overwhelmed with casualties.
Orlov said the medics conferred about making a decision to amputate his legs. The young special ops soldier said the field hospital in the middle of a war zone lacked the resources to do anything more for him.
“They were overloaded. They needed space for other guys, so they clip and go unfortunately,” he recalled. “There were a lot of wounded guys there. It’s really a big war, really terrible and there are big losses every day.”
Orlov’s girlfriend, a documentarian from Queens, on a project in Ukraine, came to his rescue, reaching out to her contacts to get him transferred to a better supplied hospital in Kiev. Ashley Matkowsky said it was a challenge.
“Transfers are hell,” she said. It’s a nightmare. It’s what war looks like, feels like.”
Once Orlov’s condition was stabilized, Matkowsky learned about Gary Wasserson, a retired businessman who had been helping family members and other refugees out of the war-torn country. He jumped into action. Reflecting on the occasion, Wasserson said as he came into the picture “I was able to get the U.S. government to expedite a visa for him for medical emergency condition. I called the Hospital for Special Surgery and told them the circumstances. They told me that they would absolutely be prepared to help him.”
He was there when the war hero was wheeled into a room where he met the stranger who helped him. “How are you my brother?” beamed Wasserson, with Orlov responding, “I had a very hard day today.” Orlov was just returning from an hours-long battery of pre-surgery tests. He remains optimistic that surgeons will enable him to walk again. “They give me a new chance to be normal,” he smiled.
Orlov said he has to recover so he can return to Ukraine to rejoin the battle. “I have to go back,” he declared, adding “because war is still war. I have to go back to help my guys. I can’t stay here when my country has a problem. It’s my land.”
As for the stranger who helped the war hero, he said his mission is far from over. “There are a lot more Vlad’s out there we have to identify and help,” he proclaimed. And he notes, “I have a responsibility to do for others exactly what I expect others to do for me. We have to remain resolute to help as many people as we can until this war is over.”
While Orlov faces a long road ahead, the water polo enthusiast hopes to meet a challenge offered by the man who helped save his legs. Wasserson said he is offering Orlov a challenge to a swim-off in Chesapeake Bay this summer, to which the patient responded, “I think it’s a good idea. I will win,” he said in a burst of laughter.
The heroic soldier demonstrates a spirit as high as his outlook for the future. He underwent exploratory surgery this week that will prepare surgeons for more extensive reconstructive surgery next week. Orlov faces many more procedures in a long road to recovery, which he hopes will eventually enable him to walk again.