Daviti Suleimanishvili, sitting on a bed in a small orthopedic clinic in Kiev, listens carefully as doctors explain to him the various prostheses that could replace his left leg, which had been torn off during the fighting in Mariupol.
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He was born in Georgia 43 years ago and is a naturalized Ukrainian. He is one of countless soldiers who have been amputated since the beginning of the war and eagerly await an artificial foot or arm.
A member of the Azov regiment, he was stationed in Mariupol, the southern port city the Russians shelled for three months before finally taking him last week.
On the frontline of the battle, this sergeant, known by the nom de guerre “Scorpion”, was seriously wounded on March 20 when a Russian tank, some 900 meters away, fired in his direction.
“I got shrapnel, flew four meters away and a wall fell on me,” he told AFP in a calm voice. “When I wanted to get up, I couldn’t feel my leg anymore, my hand was damaged and I was missing a finger. †
He was taken by his comrades to the heart of the Azovstal steel complex, was urgently amputated below the knee and then evacuated by helicopter to a hospital in Dnipro, in central Ukraine.
Two months later, Daviti is back on her feet, although she does need crutches to get around. He hopes to get rid of it quickly, thanks to the placement of a prosthesis that the Ukrainian government has to finance.
“The sooner the better, because I want to start fighting again,” he explains, assuring that he is “much sadder” for his companions who died in Mariupol than for his missing member.
“One leg is nothing: we are at 21e century and we make really good prosthetics,” he says. “I know a lot of guys who have it on the front lines…”
On Wednesday afternoon he had his first consultation with the doctors who had to fit him in Kiev.
In this dilapidated building, a dozen specialists make prostheses in the middle of a plaster-covered workshop, while in the auscultation rooms the doctors search for the most suitable model for their patient.
Daviti’s case leaves them perplexed: one of them pushes for a “vacuum” prosthesis, where a valve will force air between the socket and the stump; another argues, in his opinion, for a structure more adapted to the war, “stable, flexible and easy to clean”.
In the morning they had seen another fighter from Azov and they expect to receive more and more amputees, not to mention civilians.
“The first ones arrived two weeks ago, they had to be treated for the other wounds on their bodies first” and for the wounds to heal, explains the director of the establishment, Oleksandre Stetsenko.
No figures are available yet, but President Volodymyr Zelensky named 10,000 wounded soldiers in mid-April and the United Nations has identified more than 4,600 wounded civilians.
To treat those who have been amputated, “well-equipped structures in plaster, thermoplastic, furnace, grinders, among others, are needed,” notes the specialist magazine Amplitude.
But according to this review for amputees, “the number of such clinics is limited in Ukraine and supply chains are imperfect. †
According to Dr. Stetsenko Ukraine has about 30 branches that manufacture prostheses. His clinic produces and installs about 300 per year.
Despite the enormous needs, she probably won’t be able to pick up the pace because, he says, each prosthesis is “customized” to meet the patient’s injury and needs.
So for Daviti, who is a gunner, the doctors will add 15 pounds to his weight so that his future leg can withstand the load of the guns.
“I need a prosthesis that will allow me to do all the manoeuvres,” he insists, when presented with a carbon foot and another made of rubber.
He will be back in a week to get a temporary prosthesis with which to practice walking. As for the definitive prosthesis, nobody knows when it can be placed.
But “two or three weeks later he will be able to flee,” predicts Dr. Valeri Nebesny, who assures that 90% of amputee soldiers, such as Sergeant Scorpion, want to return to fight the Russians as soon as possible.