Ukrainian boy who lost his hand in explosion powers through
The injury has left 13-year-old Sasha with a lifelong disability
Kyiv, UKRAINE – Schoolboy Sasha Ivanov[i] slips on his favourite red sneakers and tucks in the shoelaces. After losing his right hand in a gun cartridge explosion, he is no longer able to tie them.
For the past two years, Sasha, 13, has been to carry out simple tasks, like washing or wearing clothes with zippers. During the hot summer months, he wears long sleeves to cover it. Pain shoots through his arms and legs.
"There is a fragment here. I can feel it," he says, while massaging his knee.
In two days, Sasha will visit a local hospital in the frontline village in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine to have the fragment removed. He says he's lost count of the number of surgeries he has had since the accident happened. White scars still cover his legs, arms and face.
But even if his scars will heal one day, Sasha and his family are still learning to deal with the trauma.
“Please, save me for my mom”
Valeria Ivanova is one of many mothers who found herself living in the crossfire of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. The military were stationed in the nearby village, where the family used to live. Sasha, then aged 10, found a cartridge in the field, took it home and hid it, hoping to make it into a pendant one day.
"I stepped out of the room for just a couple minutes,” recalls Valeria, through tears. “I heard a loud explosion, ran back inside, saw smoke everywhere and felt the burning smell. Sasha was all covered in blood, and I didn't even notice at first that he was missing a hand.”
She comforted Sasha in the ambulance as it sped to hospital.
"He was holding up at first,” she continues. “He was conscious, and was saying to the medic: ‘Please save me because my mom won't survive this – please, save me for my mom."
After the accident, the family moved houses, taking their five dogs and two cats with them.
"There was a lot of pain in that house," adds Valeria, sighing.
According to UNICEF, 400,000 children live along the line of contact in eastern Ukraine. The area remains one of the most mined areas in the world, and 166 children have been killed or injured because of mines or other explosive remnants of war (ERW) since the conflict started in 2014.
Valeria was unable to apply for state benefits because the authorities said the incident happened too far from the frontline. As a result, she had no choice but to pay for Sasha’s surgeries from her own her savings.
"The prosthetics centre gave us a prosthetic arm paid from the town budget. But it turned out to be too small, and it doesn't fit well."
When Sasha tries to wear the rubber prosthetic hand, it falls off almost immediately.
"He decided not to wear it. If it falls off at school, everyone will laugh.”
Choosing between daily basics or a psychologist
After his injury, Sasha became withdrawn at school.
"He has a few friends,” says his mother. “However, there are also children who don't understand and mock him. One time, he even fought with the boy who laughed at him. I explained that fighting was wrong. But what else can he do? Children can be very mean."
Valeria knows that Sasha should work with a psychologist to find coping strategies.
However, there are no child psychologists in his school or community hospital, and private specialists are too expensive for the family.
"I will have to choose whether to take him to the psychologist or buy him boots.”
Her son tries to stay positive and dreams of visiting a big city or going on holiday.
"I really want to go to Kyiv," says Sasha, sitting on a sofa in the house he shares with his four siblings. For now, however, his world is limited to school, home and rehabilitation.
Learning to overcome pain
Before the accident Sasha was right-handed, so he has had to learn how to write with his left hand. He has also learned to swim, cycle and fish. Every day, he collects water for his mother to do laundry, wash, and cook.
He also walks his favourite fluffy dog named Archie, which his mother bought after the explosion to help keep his spirits up.
"I take him to the river to swim," he says, happily.
Valeria says her son tries to do push-ups to strengthen the injured arm, but it is not easy. Her biggest hope is that he will receive a new prosthetic arm.
"He says it hurts, that he has to push through the pain. However, he tries – he helps me around the house, does sports, tries to study well, is good at math. I think it would be easier for him if he had a prosthetic – if children at school didn't laugh at him."
In September 2019, UNICEF and the Danish Refugee Council — Danish Demining Group with support from the Government of Germany published the preliminary mine victim assistance report, focusing on child victims in Ukraine. The assessment was conducted between September and November 2018 in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, and in Kyiv.
UNICEF is working with partners across eastern Ukraine to provide much-needed counselling, psychosocial support and information on the risks of ERW to hundreds of thousands of children, youth and caregivers affected by the conflict. UNICEF is also providing support to education facilities so that repairs to damaged schools and kindergartens can be made, and education supplies such as educational kits, furniture and sport equipment can be replaced.
[i] Names in this story were changed to protect their identity.