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Soccer is helping Ukrainian soldier amputees transition to a post-war life

Every Thursday, amputees, including both civilians and soldiers, gather at the Bannikov Stadium in Kyiv for soccer sessions. (CREDIT: Daria Tarasova-Markina/CNN)


Oleksandr Malchevsky, a 39-year-old Ukrainian soldier who lost part of his leg fighting in Eastern Ukraine, finds solace and rehabilitation through soccer.


Following his injury during the Russian invasion in 2022, doctors amputated part of his right limb after he came under mortar fire in the Kharkiv region.


 
 

Returning to Kyiv, Malchevsky joined a soccer team comprising fellow soldiers who had also lost limbs in combat. "All my life, I played football in this stadium. When I returned with an injury from the frontline, I was unsure what to do. I joined the team, and I have to say that I’m happy. Here I get a moral relief from everyday life," Malchevsky said, speaking to CNN Sport.


Every Thursday, amputees, including both civilians and soldiers, gather at the Bannikov Stadium in Kyiv for soccer sessions. Organized by the Ukrainian Football Federation, these sessions aim to support soldiers in their rehabilitation and return to normal life.


 

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The initiative, which started a few months ago, welcomes both men and women, some of whom were injured during the 2022 invasion while others lost limbs in the conflict that began in 2014.


Dmytro Rzondkovsky, the coach leading the Thursday sessions, emphasizes the psychological support provided by football. "Here, these people find new friends and communication. I was really surprised by how much these people love life, football, and sports. This love of life is something I’m still learning from them," Rzondkovsky remarked.


 
 

Despite not involving professional players, the project holds significance for Rzondkovsky, who acknowledges the physical pain endured by the players but aims to demonstrate their integral role in the sport. Some of these soldiers have even competed in high-profile tournaments, such as the League of Nations of the European Football Federation, where the Ukrainian team secured second place.


A prothesis lies by the side of the pitch where the amputees play. (CREDIT: Daria Tarasova-Markina/CNN)


Roman Lyndov, a 32-year-old goalkeeper who lost his left hand in 2014 during the Revolution of Dignity, finds solace in the game. "This game is more about the character. We are here to win," Lyndov expressed.


 
 

Similarly, 31-year-old Olha Benda, a veteran and mother of two boys who lost part of her left hand in 2017, is determined to excel in the sport. Despite her exhaustion, she strives to keep up with her male counterparts. "I don’t want to be last, I want to be on the same level as the men," Benda stated, emphasizing her commitment to setting an example for her sons.


Thousands of Ukrainians have needed amputations since the war began. (CREDIT: Daria Tarasova-Markina/CNN)


Another participant, Andriy, 42, lost his left hand a few months ago after being hit by a shell in the Donetsk region. Despite being fitted with a prosthetic and undergoing medical evaluations, he dreams of peace in the region.


 
 

For Malchevsky, who has returned to his job as an electrical engineering analyst, playing soccer is not just about personal fulfillment but also about ensuring a better future for his family. "I have to take care of myself. I don’t want to be pushed around in a wheelchair in five years. I don’t want to ruin the lives of my child, wife, and parents," Malchevsky reflected on his motivations.





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