Ukrainian soldier returns to war’s frontline with bionic arm

A 24-year-old Ukrainian has become one of the first soldiers to be fitted with a “superhuman” bionic arm after engaging in a “battle with a tank” near Bakhmut in mid-June last year. Vitalii Ivashchuk, who also narrowly avoided being killed by a sniper while fighting in the eastern separatist region of Luhansk in 2018, said despite his injuries he was hoping to return to the frontlines to keep fighting “until our victory”. He is currently residing in the western region of Lviv, learning how to use his bionic arm.

Mr Ivashchuk told the UK outlet i that he wants “to reach that level when I don’t have to think about using the hand but it’s just an instinct.”

While in Lviv, he has been learning how to use the bionic arm to tie his own shoe laces and draw. “The arm is really cool,” he said. “I am getting more and more interested in this, wondering what more I can do with it. I’m like a child with a new toy.”

While he is determined to return to the frontlines, though, he admitted that it would take some time before the arm feels like a natural part of him.

The Superhuman Clinic where the young soldier received his new bionic arm will not open for another month, but Mr Ivashchuk and fellow soldier Andrii Gidzun have already undergone procedures that demonstrate the life-changing brilliance of the initiative.

Speaking after his surgery last week, he said: “I started to see things from a wider perspective. I started thinking ‘What shall I do, how shall I behave? Where shall I go?’”

He said he wants to resist the stereotype that if one has lost a limb then it’s “the end” and instead be a living example of how “you can adapt to everything”.

“I like to break stereotypes,” he said. “I want to show people it is possible to live a full, normal and a new life, even when you’ve had such a hard injury.”

“Psychologists helped me a lot,” he said. “Someone can say ‘I’m strong! everything is fine!’ but at the same time that person could be hiding a huge pain.”

Describing how he lost his left arm from below the elbow, he said: “I had a battle with the tank but unfortunately I am a human and the tank is a tank, and the tank was stronger.

“I felt pain in my arm and I saw a lot of blood but I was conscious. I understood that I had to stop the bleeding.”

He said that despite the amputation, he considered the incident a victory because it was seven Ukrainian men against seven tanks, and while only two of the defenders were injured, they managed to destroy one of the Russian tanks.

Pressing on his wound, the 24-year-old made it to another position, from where he was evacuated to a hospital in Bakhmut.

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Despite his injuries, Mr Ivashchuk remains adamant he wants to return to combat as soon as possible.

“I love my country… I will be in the Ukrainian army until our victory,” he said.

His request to return has now been accepted, but for the first period he will have to stay five kilometres from the frontline.

Mr Ivashchuk will also be using a simpler prosthetic for battle as he doesn’t want his “hero” one to be damaged.

The Superhuman Clinic has been built in partnership with UK company Open Bionics and Mastercard, which has financed the initiative. It officially opens on April 10.

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