Rubryka's correspondent attended a Nordic walking training session to learn about men made of steel who master bicycles and scooters.
Through cones and roots
Standing spaced out at a comfortable distance from one another, a dozen and a half men are standing amidst the calm pine forest of one of Dnipro city's housing estates are about to start their training in the practice of Nordic walking. Their trainer hands each of them two sticks — for men with prosthetics, they will become additional supports.
One of the men meticulously inspects the thin and lightweight sticks, with his fingers. Instructor Yevhen Tarantsov reassures him: "They are strong and will not break."
The instructor leads the participants in a short warm-up for the muscles, before showing them how to hold the sticks and place them correctly on the ground to find support. Explaining the proper breathing technique used in Nordic walking, Tarantsov starts the route along the forest path with some lively music from a speaker, and a warning about the obstacles on the way. Some of the participants eagerly rush forward, joking and laughing loudly.
Fighters start moving along the forest path"Watch out for the cones, I said!," shouts the instructor after one overeager walker trips and falls into the grass.
Steps on prosthetics
Anton is one of the more eager of the bunch. Although it was his first time trying Nordic walking, he found that he was good at it because he used to ski.
Anton comes from Kharkiv. Until February 24, 2022, when Russia started the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he was working in drilling wells. He tried to enroll in the army several times, but was rejected due to his lack of experience. This year, he was finally selected, and assigned to the infantry on the front.
On Anton's very first day on the front line, he and his comrades stood between the villages of Vodyane and Pisky. A Russian drone dropped explosives on their positions, which fell right at the soldier's feet. One of Anton's comrades sacrificed himself by jumping atop the explosives to save everybody else's lives.
Anton received his injury in mid-February and was taken to Dnipro, where three fingers on his crushed left leg were amputated. After that, the defender was already sent to Ternopil.
"I wanted them to save my leg, but I saw the X-ray images and realized it was impossible," the fighter recalls.
Specialists of the Dnipropetrovsk Prosthetic Plant have been helping with Anton's recovery since April.
"I got up on the prosthesis almost immediately after crutches. Yes, it hurt, but over time, I started running," the soldier told Rubryka.
As Anton pushes to catch up with the front of the group, we approach another participant, Serhii, wearing a decoration in the form of a coat of arms on his chest. He is forced to stop every few steps and adjust his prosthesis. He explains that this one is just temporary, and that he will soon have a permanent one.
"It was easy to stand on the prosthesis, but my seam came apart twice. I was on bed rest for a while, but now everything is fine," Serhii explains.
He comes from Vilniansk, in the Zaporizhzhia region. From 2016 to 2019, he fought as an artilleryman in the east of Ukraine. He decided to enlist when he was 19. At the time when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, he immediately joined the army again. Instead of artillery, he was assigned to a unit tasked with removing mines, and in August 2022, the soldier stepped on a petal mine.
Serhii warms up before training
After losing his leg, Serhii was in Lutsk for rehabilitation and then was sent to Dnipro for prosthetics.
This Nordic walking class is Serhii's third. He says he moves better every time and looks forward to getting his permanent prosthesis.
Each of the men reached the final point of the route in the forest in their own time — ten minutes were enough for some, twenty for others, and some did not even pass half. This is normal, says the instructor, because everyone begins their relationship with a prosthesis differently.
After overcoming the route, the participants don't just immediately go back to their hospital beds. Soccer balls and frisbees are taken out of shoulder bags. With an adolescent exuberance, the men begin the game. Many laugh, joke, and sometimes fall. One of the football players lost his leg twice because the prosthesis fell off.
When the football match ends, the soldiers laugh: "Vasya, just don't forget your leg here!"
"How do we do it?"
While the soldiers are playing football, the instructor watches from the sidelines. "When we first talked, they told me: 'How are we going to do it?'" says Tarantsov.
The instructor says that when he came to the service members with the idea of conducting Nordic walking classes, not all of them were happy. Tarantsov says that the defenders did not believe in the prospects of this case, considering their limited abilities.
"Skepticism arises when people don't know what it is. They are taken care of at home, then in hospitals. And in classes, they need to get out of their comfort zone," the instructor shares. The soldiers are now out of their comfort zone, experimenting and moving.
Thanks to classes, the patients feel more confident, better navigate in space, and work with their coordination.
"I want to create a team to participate in competitions. Some have a desire, and some are still thinking about it. This should be their conscious choice," says Tarantsov.
Men of steel
"Our soldiers are made of steel. It's not just a saying. We are now living in the era of superheroes," says Iryna Tkach, a prosthetics engineer at the Dnipropetrovsk Prosthetics Plant.
Tkach says they first worked out with the patients on the enterprise's premises, then on its territory, but this was not enough to master prosthetics. Thanks to the proposal from Tarantsov and the Nordic walking club, they started going to different areas of the city. Different soils and paths were chosen, so the fighters got used to walking on various surfaces.
"People don't walk using prostheses as they walk in the gym or on the treadmill. There will always be some obstacles on the road. For example, cones imitate small stones here," says Tkach.
The prosthetic specialist remembers the first time she and her patients went to the nearest park. "It was necessary to walk 500 meters to the green zone, but it became a problem for many. Especially for those who had a prosthesis above the knee. An ambulance arranged their transfer to the park."
According to Tkach, a young person with a below-the-knee amputation can master a prosthesis in 3-5 days, but Ukrainian soldiers tend to cope with it faster — even in complex cases of prosthetics.
On the third day, they are already trying to get into the car and see if they can drive, Tkach shares. Specialists shared stories of when she had sent a patient home with a prosthesis, and they sent her a video of them riding a bicycle or a scooter. The soldiers came to understand that life does not end with their injury, and they need to become friends with the device — because many have children, families, and jobs.
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