Before the war
I am from the Rivne region, from Zarichne. I finished school in 2014. At that time, my brother was already a border guard and was fighting in the ATO. Everyone was worried, and I wanted to join him. I applied to Azov, but I was 17 at the time, and they only accepted people over 18.
Then I decided that I needed to take my exams and enter university. I studied at the Law Faculty of Ivan Franko University of Lviv. In Lviv, my view of life and that ideological position was a little bit blurred. I changed my mindset and focused on the fact that I needed to study. There was no longer an acute sense of war. While I was studying, the intensity of hostilities decreased, and I did not even register for military service because I did not want to serve in conscript service.
I have never worked in my profession. I went to interviews, but the offers were humiliating – three to six months of internship and a salary of three to six thousand. At that time, I was already dating a girl who later became my wife. At the time, I had ambitious plans – to live together, to rent a house, to take care of the household…I needed to earn money.
Once I talked to an acquaintance whose parents had a construction business and he worked for them – he offered me a position as a foreman. That’s how I worked. And later I became a project manager.
And that was it. The full-scale war began.
The full-scale war
I knew there would be a real war. Many of my friends were already fighting and we discussed it. I realised that if something serious happened, there would not even be a question for me whether to join or not. I knew my absolute decision. I am a Ukrainian, and the concept of Ukraine, and its integrity, including Crimea, has never questioned my mind. And I proved it with my actions.
On February 24, I went to the military commissariat. Since I was assigned to the Rivne region, I submitted my documents. They registered me on a piece of paper and said they would call me back. They must have lost my papers because no one ever called back.
I waited for three days, took my weapon – I have a carbine rifle – and went to the guys from the territorial defence to the checkpoint.
I had stayed with them for five days at a checkpoint near the Lviv airport and realised that they were not going anywhere and that any attack on the Lviv region through Volyn was unlikely. I realised that this was not what I wanted to do.
There were two guys who fought in Aidar in 2015, both of them had been wounded. We decided to go to war together.
At 10 o’clock on March 6 or 7, we went to Kyiv. At that time, it was half besieged. We drove through one road, through Bila Tserkva, went to Zhytomyr, to Popilnia, to another military man. We came to the DUK, the Right Sector – there were no other options at that time.
By the time we arrived, by the time we joined, by the time we were briefed and given supplies, the Kyiv region was liberated. I did not take an active part in the fighting there. It was more about bringing stuff, carrying something. Maybe it was good because I was able to prepare myself for everything, mentally as well.
And then we were officially registered, and the DUK PS became the seventh centre of the SSO. We had a rough test to join a separate assault group, which I passed. There were 16 of us in that group. We left the Kyiv region for the real training. It lasted about a month, and after that, we went to the Donetsk region, to Maryinka.
Now Marinka does not actually exist, it is completely destroyed. When we went there, there were still some houses, and some people lived there, but a month later everything was destroyed. But we had no time to worry about the destruction of the city then. There you realise that people are dying every day, you pull them out and see how they die. And that’s what matters. And the house is not important. However, we saw some houses that were just abandoned with everything. They were half burnt out, but you could see how people had lived and worked there, there were some photos… You realise that someone had worked on it all their life, and it just had been destroyed.
But all this can be restored, while human life cannot be restored, it is the most valuable thing. And so the priorities there were absolutely different. I didn’t even pay attention to the destruction, because it was natural during such a large-scale invasion and such active shelling from the russian side. There could be 600 shells a day. When the russians could not move forward and get into the city, shelling was their only option. Which, actually, worked – just destroy everything, extinguish absolutely everything. Otherwise, there was no way for them to come in.
They tried to cross the field there, and they came out with tanks several times, but our famous K2 battalion did not give them a chance, destroying all their tanks. Kyryl Kyrylych (the commander of the K2 battalion, Kyrylo Veres) had everything planned out in the most meticulous, clever, and best possible way. And then K2 was transferred to another direction, a new brigade came in…
August 6 was supposed to be my last day in Marinka. We had to leave, and on 14 August we were supposed to go on rotation. I had plans to propose to my girlfriend, to go on holiday for a week or so and prepare for the next rotation.
And on August 5 it was sunny, beautiful, and great. The sun was shining and the sky was so blue. I even have a GoPro video where, after I was wounded, when I had already tightened the tourniquet, I realised that my life was not in danger anymore and I just had to get out – I turned on the GoPro to capture that moment. And the video shows such a blue sky, without a single cloud.
It probably happened to me because I had a feeling of relaxation. We had spent three months fighting there, going to different areas, and we acquired a sense of security.
That day, I had to be on the third line, which is roughly 500 metres from the front line. It was already possible to drink coffee in the basement, to rest at least a little bit, because you had your guys by your side. But at the same time, we were ready for combat.
Then we had a wounded man – Vakha, a strong man, not afraid of anything at all. An ATGM hit a trench, and he was wounded in the head and eye. He had stayed in intensive care for several weeks and died.
Our guys were going to pull him out. And my comrade Vasyl Henyk, my comrade, was supposed to go. He was killed later. His loss still hurts. Then I decided to go instead so that he could rest.
I left the radio to charge and left. The shelling started – Vasylok (82 mm mortar) and AGS were working. They were so encouraging that I sped up my pace a little. Before crossing the road and heading straight for the shelter, at the intersection near Prokofiev Street, I sat down under a large pear tree, put on active headphones to listen to whether there were any drones above me so that bad people would not know where we had our positions. There was nothing, I took the headphones off, took three steps and there was an explosion under my feet. Since we were working with an AGS, I thought it might have come from it, but it was very strange that there was only one explosion, because usually a series of about five goes off.
My heel bone was torn off. The mine somehow exploded from behind, not from below. Most likely, when I stepped over, I hit it and it went off. It didn’t tear my leg off, because there was no pressure, no compression, and there was room for energy to dissipate, and it just tore the bone out.
I immediately applied a tourniquet and started crawling away. As it turned out later, the guys told me that there were 10 more of the “Lepestok” (a pressure-acting anti-personnel mine) nearby. I was lucky to start crawling in the right direction. Moreover, those mines were so brown that you couldn’t even see them. The leaves were burnt near this pear tree, and the mines were camouflaged as much as possible.
My comrades recently told me: “Sam, a piece of you will always be in Maryinka”. Meaning that my heel was blown off and it is somewhere in Maryinka. I joked that dogs and cats must have already eaten it, and they said: “Well, it had to come out somehow anyway. So it’s still there”. I said: “Okay, maybe I’ll come back sometime.”
When I was being evacuated, they gave me painkillers on the way, and I was feeling funny. I was joking, telling jokes. At that time, I did not understand what had happened, because when I was injured, I saw that pieces of me were flying. I thought that my leg had been torn off and that everything was holding on to the skin, my trousers or something else.
I called my girlfriend and told her that my foot had been torn off, but that everything was fine, so she shouldn’t worry. She was with her friends and didn’t even understand at first. I told her that everything would be fine.
I proposed to her on February 18, 2023, and we got married on May 25.
They inserted a piece of artificial bone to attach the Achilles tendon so that I could move my foot. And they covered it with a piece of skin from my thigh together with fat cells, blood vessels, everything. Now I still have a lump there, because it needs to be formed. My main support is the toes and the middle of the foot.
The surgery lasted 10 hours. When I woke up, I was told not to be too happy that my leg was not amputated – it would take 10 days to see if it healed.
Ten days passed, and the tissues took root. And that was it, the recovery period began.
During my rehabilitation, my friend’s dog, a Tibetan mastiff, helped me a lot. It’s a big dog, and I could feel its calmness. It is my soul, my strength, and my support. He was my rehabilitation therapist. I couldn’t walk, but I was walking with him and training my leg despite the terrible pain.
And I knew that he felt me because he did not walk fast and was always obedient.
I also have a beautiful cat. My wife once wrote to me that the cat had been knocking over a vase of flowers for two days in a row, which she had never done before. I told her that the cat was being naughty because she must be missing me.
Are you impulsive?
I wouldn’t say that. I don’t tend to make impulsive decisions. I think things through 100%. I always think carefully before doing anything.
Are you easily irritated?
I know how to restrain myself. It comes with age, I think because I was not so restrained before. Now I can let go of a lot of things. After the war, I formed a certain guideline of what is bad, what is good, and what can be ignored.
What supports you the most in life?
Probably myself. I don’t let myself relax. I have this credo in life – everything that happens to me is the consequence of my decisions, my responsibility. I have never needed any special support. I don’t need to be pitied or praised.
I don’t start whining or complaining. If my heel is torn off – it’s torn off. In war, people get killed or have more serious injuries.
How do you like to relax?
I can go fishing. It calms me down. In general, nature is calming. Water is my strength. When I go to the mountains, take a walk and there is a stream, I can sit by it for hours. This is what fills me with strength.
What are you proud of?
I was about 10 years old and I pulled my classmate out of the river. We went fishing and he started to drown. I couldn’t swim well at the time, but I tried to pull him out and he was pulling me to the bottom. I thought I was going to drown with him. But somehow I grabbed a bush with my hand and pulled him and myself out.
And when we were fighting in Maryinka, there was a dog, a very young dog. He was wounded, and his leg was broken. One day I heard barking, approached an old house, and he was sitting there, locked up, left behind. No water, no food. I fed him and gave him water, but the guys warned me not to let him out because he was always following everyone, making a lot of noise, and revealing our position. They even wanted to shoot him. We were based next to the house where he lived and called that position “Vagon”, so we named the dog Vagon too.
We fed him for a week, and then I took him away. I also found a cat. I first took the dog to Kurakhove and planned to take him further. But because he was wounded, my comrades took him to Kyiv. There he was taken to a shelter. People took him from the shelter, then he had surgery and one of my comrades took the cat to Khmelnytskyi.
When we were leaving Maryinka. Our car was full and the driver said he was allergic to fur so he wouldn’t take us with the dog. For me, it was a decision of principle. I was even ready to walk with that dog, but other people agreed to take us.
Why do you want to take part in the Invictus Games?
It’s a breath of fresh air for me. It pulled me out of the moral abyss. I was in a state where it was difficult to focus on anything. I couldn’t return to service because I was wounded, and I couldn’t find a way to fulfil myself in life.
I simply registered and didn’t give it much importance. But I enjoyed the qualifiers to the maximum. “The Invictus Games is a spirit where everyone has their own story. But everyone is like you, conditionally. Group sports are the ultimate thrill, an absolute positive experience.
Frankly speaking, this is a life-changing event. This is the benchmark that allows you to live life to the fullest.
I understand that I have already improved my physical health and mental health, which brings me to a completely different level. Now I’m in more or less the same emotional state as I was before the war.