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Oleh Dolzhok: “I went to war, to be honest with myself”

Life and work before the full-scale war

I was born in Kryvyi Rih in the Dnipro region. As a child, I played rugby and even played for the Ukrainian junior national team. 

After school, I entered a metallurgical academy. I transferred to distance learning and went to work at the plant as a locksmith. I was studying to become a mechanical engineer, and it was good practice for me. 

I worked as an engineer for a while. But I still went to work at the mine. I just wanted to earn good money honestly.  It’s a hard job, impossible to like: 1500 metres underground, alone, drilling… There could be 23-24 shifts a month. But they paid well and I could have a holiday every six months. I love travelling and seeing new places. But I don’t like the sea and resorts very much. 

I had a deferral from the army because my mother was bringing up two minors – my brother and sister on her own. Then, when my sister turned 18 and I was 25 I was called up for military service. I served in Chuhuiv. It is very difficult to get into conscript service at the age of 25. There are younger people around, it’s easier for them to follow orders, and when you’re older you sometimes find it hard to understand other people’s logic.  

The beginning of the full-scale war

I did not believe in a full-scale war at all. Some of my friends talked about it, but I thought it was nonsense to start a full-scale war in the 21st century. There are nuclear weapons. What war are you talking about? Nuclear weapons were invented in order to prevent wars. It was a certain guarantee of security. And now russia is threatening us with nuclear weapons. 

On February 23, I had a night shift in the mine. I came out and found out that the war broke out. Then the bombing started. They were aiming at the tank unit but they missed. I was confused at first, I even thought it would end quickly, and they would somehow come to an agreement. I immediately called my wife. And then I calmed down a bit and went to the military commissariat on February 25. 

I was scared, I had no confidence. But there was no way out – I wanted to be honest with myself. 

I was immediately enrolled at the military commissariat, as they needed grenade launchers. I was assigned to the 60th Brigade, where most of the men were from Kryvyi Rih and Kryvyi Rih region. 

At first, everyone was very enthusiastic and determined to drive the Russians out of Ukraine. 

In the first battle, on March 11, I was wounded, and for that first battle, I received the Order for Courage. Sometimes I think it’s a good thing because almost no one from my company survived.

Battles with tanks and injuries

The day before, we went to the village of Orlove in the Kherson region on foot. There is a bridge there, and an excavator bed was thrown onto it, so the car would not have passed. We took our ammunition and shells and went. We were in Orliv in the evening, and at 8 a.m. the following morning, the commander came and said that a convoy was coming towards us, we had to stop it. I was 200 metres closer to our positions. 

We were alone there, the region was almost completely occupied. It was 30 kilometres from Kryvyi Rih. A russian convoy was on its way to Kryvyi Rih, and we were supposed to “meet” them. So we did. I hit two tanks. I used all the shells I had on the Russian tanks and infantry. They began to disperse, new tanks were coming – there were up to 10 of them, and I was not able to hit them with a Soviet RPG. I started to crawl to my men and a tank shell exploded near me. It hit me in the arm and damaged my nerves. I didn’t even feel it go off. My ears immediately started ringing, and I looked at my arm and it was dangling. 

Then our unit completed the task. But five guys were killed, including the company commander and his deputy. There were a lot of people with contusions, three were wounded, and I was the only one who was seriously injured. 

I had a broken artery, I was losing blood and I lost 40% of my blood. I was taken out on a “kopiyka”. Then the bridge was blown up right after us because they thought the russians would break through. I was lucky to make it on time to cross that bridge. They took me to Shestirna, a village in the Dnipro region, where there was a paramedic station which was absolutely empty. They wanted to inject me with painkillers, but it didn’t hurt, I was only afraid that I would faint or that my heart would stop.

Then the locals took me to Ingulets Hospital number 17, which is in Kryvyi Rih. They gave me a blood transfusion and removed the shrapnel. And on the same day, I was transferred to the 2nd city hospital. 

My mother lives near the hospital, so she and my grandmother came to see me the same day. And then my wife came too. 

Of course, everyone who has gone to war understands that you can get injured and die there. I tried not to think about it. I didn’t even think I was right-handed. It’s hard for me to even throw anything with my left hand. 


It was only in Kyiv, three and a half months after the injury, that it was discovered that the artery in my arm was not working. The doctors said: “You’re lucky that the auxiliary veins are working well, and your arm is still functioning.” 

In Kyiv, I had an artery surgery and a nerve transplant. It took 13 hours. In total, I had five surgeries. The nerve started working and I can even move my wrist now. I’m undergoing rehabilitation, which is painful, but I need to move to make it work. 

I spent about half a year accepting myself. When I was told that I was being medically discharged from service, I realised that there was something wrong with my arm. They checked the reaction of the nerves they did not react to anything. Just going for a massage is pointless, you need to find a good specialist. I found one in Novovolynsk and he helped me a lot in 10 days. 

I really want my arm to work. My education allows me to work, and I also want to go to a physical education university in Cherkasy and become a rehabilitation instructor. I want to be a living example of rehabilitation for the military and veterans.


Were you bad as a child?

I wouldn’t say that. I was rather calm. I respected my parents. But I can also be short-tempered sometimes. Though I quickly retreat. In general, I think the best fight is the one that never happened. 

What words can you use to describe yourself?

Honest, but not always, probably. Maybe fair. Loyal. 

Which city do you like the most out of all those you’ve been to?

I have not been abroad yet. But in Ukraine, I like Lviv. It has a good atmosphere. I’m also happy at home. But now it’s not very safe there.

What gave you the strength to fight?

The understanding that I was defending my land. The russians were committing atrocious crimes. And I was thinking about my wife and mother, who were at home. 

What was the most difficult period for you?

The period of accepting myself, It was hard to accept the fact that my arm didn’t work. I had to wear a bandage for a long time. Later I exercised my arm. But my wife has been always by my side, supporting me. In general, I did not have periods when I was very discouraged. And I have no regrets. 

What deed are you proud of?

There is probably no such deed. I was thinking “Ok, well done, you’ve made it to the Invictus Games. Like everyone else, sometimes you need to be praised for small things. Those who say they don’t like to be praised – are lying. We do everything for some kind of reaction. And praise motivates you. 

Why do you want to take part in the Invictus Games?

A friend of mine was going to go to Lviv for the selection, and the local authorities told him: “Gather a team and we will support you”. We gathered a group of people and went together. I chose the sports that would help with my rehabilitation – swimming and sitting volleyball. When I was swimming I did not look at the neighbouring lane. I was swimming as long as I could, squeezing the maximum out of myself. It is always important for me to do everything I can. And the fact that I got into the national team was a surprise.

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