LONDON/KYIV – The steady stream of wounded soldiers into a clinic for artificial limbs in Kyiv is a stark reminder of the human cost of Russia’s war on Ukraine, where military casualties are a secret closely guarded by both sides.
Unrelenting artillery fire along a 1,000km front line and Russia’s frequent use of missiles across the country mean that shrapnel wounds are maiming people in Ukraine on a scale just beginning to emerge.
“Unfortunately, the number of patients has increased significantly,” said Mr Andrii Ovcharenko, who works with a team of medics and technicians at the “Without Limits” prosthetics clinic, one of almost 80 now operating in Ukraine.
Clinic owner Nagender Parashar’s Kyiv-based company made about 7,000 prosthetic components in the second half of last year, equal to the total produced in 2021. “It’s still not enough,” he said.
Mr Parashar has 25 specialists at the nine clinics he owns in Ukraine; the busiest – Kyiv and Lviv – would see 20 to 30 patients a month, but now it is three times that number and he says he needs up to 75 more specialists to cope.
Russia has poured extra troops and artillery into the fight this year and some analysts have compared the months of intense, inconclusive trench warfare in eastern Ukraine to World War I.
“There really is a shortage of prosthetists, because there are a huge number of people requiring prosthetic treatment coming in every day,” Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Liashko told Reuters in an interview.
“Now the priority is upper limbs, so those specialists who deal with this are overloaded.”
On a recent morning, Mr Ovcharenko’s Kyiv clinic assessed two soldiers for artificial legs and adjusted the new limb of a third. A handful more came for rehabilitation exercises. Staff said a recent Russian missile attack on Kyiv had put others off.
Mr Denys said he lost his left leg when a Russian missile landed 50m from his unit in the eastern city of Kramatorsk.
“My comrade behind the dugout received shrapnel wounds and bled to death,” the 28-year-old told Reuters as he sat in a wheelchair, declining to give his full name.
He said it was a gift from God that he had survived and there was no sense in complaining. He planned to return to civilian life once he had recuperated. According to Mr Ovcharenko, many amputee soldiers volunteer to return to the war.
Mr Dmytro Zilko had a newly fitted artificial limb to replace his right leg, amputated after a shell landed nearby during fighting in a village close to the eastern town of Bakhmut – where the fiercest battles of the conflict still rage.
“They cut my leg off in Druzhkivka,” the 22-year-old said, referring to a town west of Bakhmut. “This is my fourth exercise day. As soon as I stood on my prosthetic leg, I felt alive.”