Ukrainian soldiers | Blinded in battle, they will never see their babies

(Kyiv) Since the birth of his daughter ten months ago, Rouslane Kozatchok practically never leaves her side.

At the hospital, little Isabella knew Rouslane’s arms before those of her mother. Recently, he helped the little one take her first steps.

But he never saw her.

Three months before Isabella was born, Mr. Kozatchok, 47, lost his sight when shrapnel from a Russian shell pierced the left side of his skull in Chasiv Yar, the small town where he was fighting in eastern Russia. Ukraine.

Previously, Mr. Kozatchok was a tattoo artist in his own salon. His injury deprived him of his job, his hobbies, everything you do with your eyes. Including seeing his daughter grow up.

The bloody war started by Russia kills and injures Ukrainian soldiers every day, creating a generation of maimed young people. Like Mr. Kozatchok, many had volunteered since the invasion in 2022.


Rouslane Kozatchok, in the waiting room of the Port organization in Kyiv, which helps blind veterans and their families adapt

Eye injuries are common. At least 1,000 soldiers have lost their sight since the invasion, says MP Anna Purtova, who defends the interests of blinded soldiers. According to Tatiana Litvinenko, director of ophthalmology at a Kyiv hospital that treats soldiers and civilians, the 30 beds in her department are still occupied.

Modern medicine makes it possible to better treat war injuries, in particular thanks to new prostheses. But there is little recourse for those who become blind and must adapt to a world without vision. Ukraine has not yet adapted to their needs. Guide dogs are rare, many pedestrian crossings do not have sound signals and motorists often park on the sidewalks.

Some young demobilized people must also learn to be a father without vision.

Rouslane, Yioulia and Isabella

Seven years before the war, Mr. Kozatchok and Yioulia, a bank employee, dreamed of starting a family. Yioulia was six months pregnant when she visited her husband in the hospital and repeated to him what doctors had told her: her sight would not return.

Mr. Kozatchok’s head injury could have been fatal. He lost an eye instantly. He was able to crawl to an evacuation point, where he lost consciousness. He survived, but woke up in the hospital to a blur of light that soon went out completely.


Rouslane Kozatchok holds his daughter, Isabella, during a walk with his wife, Yioulia Bespala, in Kyiv.

This terrible mourning lasted for months. “Every day, I searched for meaning in my life,” he said. It’s like fighting against yourself. »

Then Isabella was born. At the hospital, Yioulia described their daughter to him: pink skin, red hair, bright blue eyes.

“When she said ‘blue eyes,’ I melted,” Mr. Kozatchok said. He knows his hair has turned blond since then, and he likes to imagine that too.

“I gently feel his face and picture it in my head,” he added. “I touch his face often. »

Being a father “is probably what kept him alive,” says Yioulia.


Rouslane Kozatchok has found a challenge in climbing, which helps him stay fit and active.

Mr. Kozatchok is still looking for work that will allow him to express his creativity. But he found a challenge in rock climbing, a sport he didn’t do before losing his sight. He regularly attends a multi-sports hall in Kyiv. The owner, who accompanies him to the climbing wall, directs him out loud, lending his eyes to the blind soldier to direct him to the colorful patterns that guide the other climbers.

Mr Kozatchok says he needs to stay fit and active, for himself and for Isabella: “Every father wants to be a good example for his child. »

Denys, Olésia and their two boys

Denys Abdouline, 35, already had two sons when he enlisted in March 2022, leaving Bila Tserkva, a small town near Kyiv.

His wife, Olesia, took the children to Lithuania for shelter.

In April, Mr Abdouline and his brigade were surrounded in Sievierodonetsk, in the east of the country, under fire from Russian artillery and aircraft.

Mr. Abdouline took cover in a building. He did not hear the drone that spotted his group, nor the whistle of the shell. A piece of shrapnel passed through his skull through his left ear, exiting through his right eye. The soldiers in the building, all injured, treated each other as best they could while waiting to be evacuated.

At a hospital in Dnipro, Mr. Abdouline waited days for his bandages to be changed. Eventually he was sent to Kyiv, where Olesya took their sons, Vadym and David, to visit him.


Denys Abdouline hugs his 9-year-old son, Vadym, as his wife, Olésia, looks on.

Even though he couldn’t see them, their innocence in the face of his injuries filled him with hope. One of them was having fun rolling around in his wheelchair, the other was pushing buttons on the hospital bed. “I can’t explain this happiness,” he said.

The boys were 7 and 4 when he last saw them, in 2022. That’s how they will remain in his mind.


Denys Abdouline, here in a park in Kyiv, remains hopeful of regaining his sight.

“I’m very grateful that he was able to see them,” Olésia said in their living room one April afternoon, as the boys ran around playing. “The color of their eyes, their silhouette, their features. He saw them in real life.”

The boys do not fully understand their father’s blindness. One day, David, the youngest, took a glass eye from his father and attached it to the head of his red plasticine octopus. They show him books and pictures. Sometimes they ask him to assemble a toy, which frustrates him. He would like to be able to teach them boxing, his favorite sport.

“We didn’t explain the whole situation,” said Olésia. They are told that he was injured in the war. »

Before the war, Denys Abdouline worked in a warehouse, a job he can no longer do. Last year, he trained as a massage therapist at Port, an organization founded by MP Anna Purtova that helps blind veterans adapt. For the moment, Abdouline is borrowing premises to serve her few customers. He hopes to open his own studio.


Denys Abdouline trained as a masseur after losing his life. His new job gives him a goal, which helps him in his difficult adaptation.

Before the massage course, he had “no idea what a blind person could do.”

His new job gives him a goal, which is a big help in his difficult adaptation. Olesia had to comfort him during panic attacks due to his blindness. He also had nightmares. Even good dreams “always end badly,” he says: he wakes up blind.

He has just had surgery to prepare his eye sockets for eye implants that will reduce the risk of infection and have the appearance of natural eyes, but he remains hopeful of regaining his sight: “I don’t want to be blind all my life. »

Ivan, Vladyslava and Sviatoslav

Ivan Soroka, 27, and Vladyslava, 26, met online in April 2022. At military positions near Kyiv, he climbed trees to find the signal to write to her. From their first real meeting, “I fell in love with her green eyes,” he says. In May, they got engaged. When leaving for the front in June, “I promised I would come back.”


Ivan Soroka and his wife Vladyslava at their home in Kyiv on April 4. Vladyslava was then in her ninth month of pregnancy.

In August, Mr. Soroka’s unit retreated near Bakhmout. A mortar shell fell between him and his friend Ioura. The explosion killed Ioura, leaving a widow and two orphans, and seriously injured Soroka in the face and legs. He also lost the use of both eyes.


Vladyslava and Ivan at the hospital on April 19 for a medical examination, a month before the expected birth of their child.

His greatest fear, he said, was being a burden to Vladyslava. Her biggest surprise was his declaration: they would overcome their difficulties together, she said. They got married last September.

Last month, between two air alerts in Kyiv, Vladyslava gave birth to a boy. It was the first time the doctor had delivered a woman whose baby had a blind parent. He placed the scissors in the hand of Ivan Soroka, who cut the umbilical cord.

They chose the first name Sviatoslav.

Three days later, relatives and friends – including some brothers in arms – came to congratulate the new parents before their return home. Ivan Soroka held his son carefully, supporting the newborn with the same hands that had held an assault rifle.


Ivan Soroka holds his newborn son in the maternity ward.

It’s scary to hold a baby. Maybe not if you can see it. But if you can’t see it… these hands so small, these legs so small.

Ivan Soroka

Good thing it’s a boy, said the visitors. Sviatoslav looks like his father.

And Ukraine lacks men.

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