Story #89. A Man on Iron Legs

April 6, 2023
The story of Oleksandr Budko, who lost both his legs in the war and now walks on prosthetics. #UkraineWorldTestimony
Photo credit: tsvit_terenu/Instagram

Until 24 February 2022, Oleksandr Budko, call sign Teren, worked as a barista in Kyiv and planned to get a job as a designer. After the start of the full-scale Russian invasion, he joined the Carpathian Sich 49th Infantry Battalion as a volunteer. On 24 August, an enemy shell hit Oleksandr's trench, taking away both of his legs.

"Lying on my stomach, I didn't even hear the whistle of the shell. All I felt then was a hellish pain, a suffocating smell, and earth in my nose," Oleksandr recalls.

Fortunately, his comrades quickly dug him out and put tourniquets on him. He was quickly evacuated from the front line and brought to the nearest hospital, where doctors operated on him.

He was then taken to a hospital in Kharkiv, where he spent 3 days. Since doctors did not perform any surgeries on Oleksandr while he was there, the tissue in his legs began to die off, and the chances of saving one of his legs decreased. In a hospital in Poltava, where he was sent after Kharkiv, Oleksandr had both his legs amputated. Budko said that when he was in the Poltava hospital, there was not a single day when he went without visitors. "I was surprised that people from distant cities came to see me, that people I didn't know came to visit me. And I'm especially grateful to my best friend Serhii, who arrived on the first day and lived in Poltava to help me."

After a while, Oleksandr moved to a hospital in Kyiv. This place was quite familiar to him, as he had previously donated blood here. Ironically, it was now the place where he was receiving blood transfusions himself.

Here, Oleksandr underwent several more surgeries, "raising" his amputation even higher. The wounds kept on festering, which left Oleksandr distressed and scared. All this time he had a high fever and phantom pains. When he was taken for another surgery, he was even glad to be able to sleep peacefully under anesthesia.

Gradually, the wounds began to heal, and Oleksandr was transferred down to the rheumatology department. Every day he was given fresh bandages, and soon had the stitches removed from his legs. Just like in Poltava, volunteers came to support Oleksandr every day and brought him food and gifts. From the Kyiv hospital, Oleksandr was transported to a comprehensive rehabilitation center in the village of Velykyi Liubin in Lviv Oblast, where he was fitted with his first prosthetics. He began learning to walk again.

While waiting for prosthetics in Ukraine, Oleksandr also applied to the Revived Soldiers Ukraine Foundation, which has been helping to provide prosthetics to Ukrainian soldiers since 2014, and soon found himself in the United States.

There, he was fitted with special sports prosthesis, one for running and another for crossfit. Before the full-scale war, Oleksandr was a fitness enthusiast, and he didn't want to give it up after his injury. Now he has 6 prostheses that can be changed depending on the task. With all his new "legs," Oleksandr jokingly calls himself a spider.

Today, Oleksandr is training to take part in the Invictus Games (an international competition for wounded soldiers and veterans) and is writing his war memoir, with the working title "The Story of a Stubborn Man." Teren doesn't exclude the possibility of returning to the army again, because the war could last a long time, and one can serve one's country with prosthetic limbs.

This material was prepared with financial support from the International Renaissance Foundation.