Story #114: Iryna's Recovering Strong After Russian Invaders Shot Her

September 22, 2023
Iryna Bilotserkovets, a woman, a mother, a surgeon, and a model, is learning to live all over again after being shot in the head by Russian troops.

Iryna still isn't ready to go out in public without glasses or an eye patch, as she says, not to scare society or even her own children, as her face changed radically after she was shot right in the head by Russian troops.

"The main surgery was reconstructive -- I had a completely broken jaw and eye socket. It was held in Germany and lasted for 6 hours. Afterward, there were two more operations to collect the lower part of the jaw," Iryna recalls.

And another cosmetic surgery, for which she had to wait more than a year for recovery, is on the way.

Iryna was injured on the third day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while attempting to flee Kyiv with her three children as the occupiers broke through to the capital. The shelling, which felt so far away, accidentally reached Iryna, knocking her out cold.

Her children, who weren't injured in the attack, now play an important role in her recovery as she does everything they do.

"I participate in everything with them, we run, we play. I believe that the majority of recovery is dependent on you, on your desire to do more than just go through the motions of daily life. The more you practice, the better it gets."

It's not just empty advice; it's how Iryna herself returned to normal life -- by striving. She lost an eye, which reduced her field of vision by 30%.

"At first, I could have hit my head a lot because I can't see what I used to see on the left side. I now have to turn my head more, putting more strain on my neck, back, and body. All of this has leveled out over the year, and neural connections are still being adjusted."

Physical activity, or occupational therapy as Iryna refers to it, is what kept her alive and prevented negative thinking from taking over. After her wounds had healed, she started relearning everything she could do before the injury, albeit with her new physical peculiarities.

I've always been very physically active: rode all kinds of boards, ran, rode a bicycle, did yoga. I wanted to regain, if not everything, at least the largest possible percentage of what I had.

And in many ways, she did. Iryna returned to wake-surfing and snowboarding, she visits the gym and always tries something new. 

Conscious of her abilities, she acknowledges that some sports are no longer within her reach: at times, she opts for beginner-friendly ski slopes, and she's learned that performing headstands trigger migraines, etc. But this is who she is now.

"Yes, it's unfortunate when you lose a part of your body, and that you may now have limitations, but you can learn things you couldn't before. It is essential to continuously pursue personal development. Merely trying to guide yourself onto the right path through thinking alone is insufficient. You need to enable your body to develop through physical activity."

The first step she toward accepting a new life was to forget about the past and focus on the present. Iryna recognizes completely that she is different now, but so is her way of thinking.

As she laid in the hospital, seeing nothing but darkness, she gained a new perspective on the preciousness of life. The futility of getting upset, allowing inconveniences to hinder you, or postponing plans all took on new, profound meanings.

The flashbacks still bring Iryna to the day of the incident, whether she wants it or not. It must be unavoidable as her survival was a real miracle, and she speaks of it as such, occasionally wondering what the point was. However, she used her vitality to erase all possible health barriers to enjoy these precious minutes she was again gifted.

Yelyzaveta Dzhulai
Journalist at UkraineWorld