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Ihor Derman: “I want to show the world that we are still here, we have not all been killed yet, we are fighting and will continue to fight”

The beginning of the war

When I was deciding where to go to school, I chose between a military university and a university of civil defence, which was subordinated to the Ministry of Emergency Situations. I really wanted to help humanity. I decided that I would be able to do this thanks to my certain qualities, including my physical fitness.

It was 2009, at that time there were no problems with the russians and no hints of war. I wanted to graduate from a military school and participate in peacekeeping missions. I chose Chuhuiv in the Kharkiv region as my place of service, and then I was assigned there. There was a training base there for the contingent that was deployed to various peacekeeping missions.

But my graduation was in 2014. So, instead of going to Liberia, I went to the city of Shchastia, the Luhansk region.

But even before that, during my studies, around April 2014, some cadets from our course were sent to perform combat missions in the ATO area. They were repairing equipment there. I talked to them and they said: “It’s a mess – an APC arrives broken into two pieces, with blood all over it, body fragments, and we have to put it all  back together so that in the morning  it’s ready to pick up other guys who will go back to the front.” And then I realized that it was really a mess.

In 2015, it was already relatively calm in the Luhansk region. There were localized battles at the thermal power plant in Shchastya, at the Facade (military operation point), in Triokhizbenka… My personnel were scattered at the thermal power plant, Triokhizbenka, and towards Stanytsia Luhanska. When we arrived there in March, we were shelled with Uragan rockets. And for the first time, I took part in a battle at the thermal power plant. It was during the replacement of personnel – one of my units was located at the pumping station, near the water. The separatists started shooting at us about 100 meters away. The feelings were very cool.

I was in the Luhansk region from March 2015 to June 2016. I left there as a company commander. In June, we went for training, coordination, and recovery. My company received 10 new APCS-4E. In September, we went to the Donetsk region. And on October 10, we entered Maryinka. But before taking the unit to the new position I went there for reconnaissance and spent several days there to understand what was happening in that area.

Maryinka. The heaviest shelling

The first days there were mortar attacks, and from October 15 to 16 there was a very heavy artillery shelling. There was soil on top of a six-story building, and I stood on the roof and counted more than 100 holes from mines in it.

During that shelling, we had a lieutenant, an anti-aircraft gunner, Andriy, with the call sign “Mukhomor”, who was seriously wounded. I personally pulled him out. One of his legs was blown off by a mine, and the other was badly injured.

In the Luhansk region, I did not have to deal with such things. There were mostly shooting battles. I don’t know what was happening to me then, in Maryinka – I was acting automatically, but now I am thinking about my actions… It was very dangerous for my life. Because I was running around the building, running outside, shouting from the roof. The guys wanted to shoot down a drone that was flying over us, using an anti-aircraft gun but one of the assault rifles jammed, they tried to do it with another, but the vehicle with an anti-aircraft gun stalled.

The shelling lasted for about two hours. First, they were shooting at a second company, that was on our left. “Mukhomor” was not responding, and when I ran down from the roof, I saw an explosion on the spot where he was standing. They were shooting from two to four mines at once at us. That night there were no assaults, no shooting battles. The separatists were just “covering” us with mines.

It was the most severe shelling, it was only once. I had one heavily injured and one with medium wounds – the driver. The driver was hit by shrapnel. At first, I thought he was dead because I did not see him. I thought he was blown up.

I started calling for medics for the heavily wounded man because his legs were like rags, he was conscious but not talking. I was dragging him, and the driver came to help me and pull him to the corner of the building, a medic came running, and then anti-aircraft gunner Vitia Bandera (he later died in a motorcycle accident after demobilisation) joined and took him away in a ZIL. It was good that there were “Hospitallers”( The battalion of volunteer paramedics) because I doubt that the battalion medic would have come to us from Krasnohorivka at night.

After that, the shelling continued. I ran to report it, went up to the second floor and couldn’t go inside because shrapnel was flying across the hall, through the broken windows and ricocheted against the walls. There was no support from the battalion. Even though we had conducted an artillery reconnaissance survey before. Later, the Right Sector flew the drone over the territory, and we could see where the separatists were shooting us from, where their mortars and their equipment were. I am very angry that there was no support from our artillery. Especially when they explained it by saying that it did not make it in time to turn the battery around and to go on duty.

When I was alone, I was often thinking about what to do next. I had to do something. I had duties to fulfil as a commander. It is a pity that this happened to Andriy. I saw him later in the hospital, he also had an amputation.

The next day, my brother called me and said that I had a nephew. I was very happy.


The mortar attacks continued, but they were no longer so massive. We adjusted to it. We coordinated the intelligence in order and realised what to expect from the enemy and from where. But still, at times they were shooting at us from close range from the left flank, we did not know from where exactly. That is, from time to time someone would appear in the field, near the school, and shootat us. And then this person would disappear. It is clear that the field is uneven, but I could see everything from the sixth floor. And I had a camera there, so I couldn’t have missed anything. I never saw anyone there, but I heard that there was shooting so later it became clear to me that there could be some kind of trench or underground passage.

Indeed, there was a passage from the mine to Maryinka, trucks, Ural trucks, were going there. We talked to some of the local people, and they told us that in Soviet times, during the Cold War, missiles were transported there.

And sometimes they would shoot only 50 meters away at the front from our positions. The separatists would somehow approach us and sometimes they would shoot so accurately that they would hit our windows in the evening. But instead of supplying us with engineering barriers, the battalion sent us two boxes of grenades.

We started exploring the area, looking for ways to approach them. It was the time of the Christmas holidays and the separatists were celebrating so hard that the shellings decreased. We decided to use this time, and in the evening we went to the area from which they presumably had been shooting. We found shell casings there. The next evening, we went a little further, about 15 meters, and realized that we were a little higher than the field that was in front of us, where the separatists were. There was a small difference in height, about two meters, and a small landing, so we couldn’t see what was happening.

We went down this landing along our territory. I had a night vision device and saw a dugout right in front of our positions. There was a pipe sticking out. We walked another 10 meters, and we could already hear the separatist throwing wood into the stove. It was their extreme position. They dug the way across to us. I couldn’t see it at all, but they most likely dug a trench during the fall and made several firing points there, and put up a dugout.

We had an idea to throw a grenade at them. But there were only four of us there, so we decided to just leave. We left, but not the way we came there, but the shorter way that was closer to us.

When we were going back, I was the second to follow the trail. I  remember for sure that I was on the trail of a scout who was walking ahead. And I got blown up. I heard an explosion, I thought that a separatist fired from a VOG…

That mine was lying there for who knows how long, my comrade must have pressed on it, but since I was a bit heavier, I just pushed it down. And it exploded under my feet.

I looked at my leg and saw it hanging. I checked to see if I was bleeding, rolled over on my side, called for help, hid the radio, threw the machine gun behind my back, and slowly started crawling.

Two days before, I watched the movie Kajaki. It’s a movie about the British troops carrying out missions in Afghanistan, and they were standing at high altitudes. They had to go down the mountain into a gorge, a group of snipers and a machine gunner, I think. And the Soviet mines that had been laid during the Afghan war, under the influence of precipitation, all floated down into this gorge. And they were detonated there. I watched how it all worked. That’s why when my scout wanted to come up to pull me out, I forbade him. In total, about 17 people were blown up in the movie, and they could not evacuate each other.

I was crawling slowly along the trail. I was afraid that either with my palms or elbows I would hit another mine and my face would be blown off. I was glad that my genitals were intact and that there was no bleeding. I saw how these anti-personnel mines tear off legs. And I was very lucky that I did not step on it completely. If I had, it would have torn off my leg up to the knee at best.

I remember when I was lying in Kurakhovo, I could still move my fingers. They did not show me how it was torn off. They held my head so I wouldn’t look. They said I shouldn’t see how it looked. I thought they would save my leg in Dnipro. I don’t think I lost consciousness on the way to Dnipro, because I remember everything clearly – every detail and smell. I also got shrapnel near my eye, I thought I would lose it. But while I was being transported, Ryzhenko (Serhiy Ryzhenko, chief doctor of Mechnikov Hospital in Dnipro) examined me in Dnipro and said that I needed an amputation because sepsis had begun. I agreed to the amputation because my leg was hurting so much.

While I was being transported on the train, my brother called at night and asked what happened to me, because he said my mother was already crying. I don’t know how they found out, maybe someone told them. Berdychiv is a military town, so maybe someone saw my name on the list of the wounded and told my mom.

I told my brother that my leg was gone, I had stepped on a mine. I asked them to reassure my mother, to say that I was conscious and able to talk. They came to visit the next day.

In the morning I woke up and realized that I had no leg. There was no realisation yet. It was very hard physically. Everything hurt.


Acceptance does not happen immediately. It might take several years to accept yourself. Now, when six years have passed since the injury, I have accepted myself. I know that everything is normal. But there were periods that were harder than the postoperative ones. Harder than the time when I got my first prosthesis, started walking on it, doing sports… And then I left the Armed Forces.

There was a period that lasted for about two years when I did not understand what to do. Maybe I did, but nothing really worked out. I started to get overwhelmed from time to time. I started drinking beer. And that was it. I got to the point where I went to a therapist. I realised that it was no longer okay to live like that. And when we started working with a therapist, it turned out that I did not fully accept myself. I could not continue to live a good life. Something was in my way. In addition to the things that I had before the army, like some complexes from my childhood, something else, and my amputation.

A full-scale war

Before the full-scale russian invasion, I was buying and delivering cars from the United States and Georgia. My brother and I also had a burger restaurant delivery.

I knew a full-scale war was possible, but I thought it would start from the war zone. Maybe from the neighbouring flanks. Maybe from Crimea in some way. But I didn’t think that they would come through Chernihiv, Sumy, Zhytomyr, Kyiv regions, through Chornobyl. I didn’t think there would be massive missile strikes across the entire territory of Ukraine. I did not think that russian aviation would be operating in Kyiv. By the way, this is what I woke up to in the morning. A russian plane was shot down over Bereznyaki, where I lived. I heard that military aircraft were flying and realized that it was crap.

People started calling and texting me, asking me what to do. I said: “I don’t know what you should do, I’m going to Berdychiv to get my body-armour and return back to Kyiv.” On February 25, I left and came back. I took the Zhytomyr highway. I was thinking “There is no one on this highway.” Just the cars that broke down. If I had left on the 26th, I might not have made it back. My brother was already in the territorial defence.

Now I am mobilized. I am serving in the city of Rivne, in the territorial defence. From the beginning of the full-scale invasion, I was drafted as a soldier in a rifle platoon in Kyiv because there were no other positions available. And when there was a distribution, some of the personnel were sent to Chernihiv and some to Rivne. In Rivne, I talked to the commander of the military unit, and he offered me a position, and I stayed. I thought it was temporary, and then I would be transferred back to Kyiv, but everything got busy and I was offered the position of company commander again. For the third time in my life. 



What were you like as a child?

You have to ask my mom about that. I was a very good child. I liked to take a stick and beat nettles and burdocks with it. I was active as a child. I was born in Berdychiv, but I spent the years from three to five or six in the village and had a lot of different activities there. Including exploring the world, swimming, running, cycling, and everything else. And winter sports. The village is a complete freedom of action.

Are you self-critical?

Yes, I am. I think that it’s because of my complexes. But I sometimes communicate with my inner critic. By the way, this is a very good technique. I advise everyone to talk to their inner critic. And I’m talking to him right now. After a psychotherapist and antidepressants, I went to another therapist and he helped me and told me about different techniques. People often blame themselves for something. They “switch on” their critic. It controls them. And this prevents them from living in the present. We often live in the past or the future, and the present fades into the background. This is an unconscious life, but we need to live consciously. I have been working on myself for a long time, a lot, and I will continue to work on it. Turn off the critic, don’t punish yourself for anything, put yourself first, love yourself.

Do you see the public reaction to soldiers with injuries and is it changing?

After the full-scale invasion, I see that there are some changes in our people’s attitudes in terms of education. That is, when they see a person on some kind of supporting means that helps them move, they behave it a little more adequately than before. It was very annoying when I noticed people looking at my leg. It’s not OK to stare,right? When a child says to his mother, “Look at that man’s iron leg,” it’s fine. But sometimes I noticed that I was causing discomfort – people were looking at my legs and something was happening to them, I don’t know what feelings they were experiencing.

How would you like society to react to veterans wearing prostheses or using wheelchairs?

I won’t reinvent the wheel, but when people come up to me and say: “Thank you for your service,” or “Thank you for our peaceful sky,” it’s the best. People should see the injured soldiers in an adequate and calm way. There is even no need to approach them and say anything, you can just be silently grateful and respectful.

I like that the US has a social policy that teaches people to say “Thank you for your service.” It is a pity that this is not our expression.

Before the full-scale invasion, people tried not to see the war, but we have wounded soldiers not only with visible injuries. Now there are many more wounded people, and we can no longer hide and pretend that they do not exist.

When the full-scale war began, I was very happy that the Ukrainian people became united were moving towards the same goal. Everyone just loved each other and realised that they had to survive. People helped each other. And all human qualities were highlighted then. And now it’s not like that anymore. Why? Now, when I see how clubs are working and how people are hanging out, I have flashbacks to 2016. When I would come back from the front line and think: “Am I’m doing something wrong? Where am I in this world?”

If you weren’t in the military, what would you be?

I think I would have been engaged in commerce. Maybe in cars. I like technology. My grandfather always took me with him to drive in a car or on a tractor. It all started with a bicycle. I like it.

What do you think you will do after the war?

Of course, I would like to work with the rehabilitation of military personnel. Because I think the situation is critical for guys who have PTSD. PTSD concerns not only those who fought but also  those who are experiencing all this. We will have to remain sane.

Who was your biggest support during the most difficult periods?

It seems to me that no matter who is your support, you still have to decide what’s best for you. And until you decide to do something for yourself, it won’t happen. My family supports me. Parents. Relatives and friends. My brother, my mother. But due to prejudices, I am the best support for myself. I know what’s best for me.

What should one do in the worst psychological states?

Do sports. Go for a swim in cold water. Have some sleep. Go to the countryside. 

How do you like to relax?

I like to go to the countryside, grill meat and relax. Ideally, there should be a river and a forest. Or maybe just a forest.

Sea or mountains?

Mountains. I don’t like salty water. I don’t understand how people swim there. It’s just ridiculous. But the sea is also a very strong thing. I think we need to alternate between them. But we have very beautiful Carpathians. I wish I had gone there earlier. I really like the vats. You run out of the vats naked and jump into a cold mountain river. I love this.

Who inspires you?

There is no specific person for me. I am inspired by people who support the army, and who are not tired of doing something for the country. People who do not give up, who do not get demotivated by what is happening here. For me, these are real heroes. And also these guys and girls who are on my Invictus team.

Why do you want to participate in the Invictus Games?

I want to be one of those people who will go on the world stage as part of the Ukrainian national team. To show that Ukraine continues to live. We are rehabilitating the military. We are still here. We have not all been killed yet. And we are fighting, and we will continue to fight. We need to remind the whole world once again that we need to end this war. We need to make the world authorities hear us, because they know what is happening. I am more than sure of that.

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