Vassily lost part of his hand when a mine exploded. Sergei lost his leg during an encounter with Russian forces. Both soldiers were injured in the Ukrainian War and came to Israel for rehabilitation. While learning how to use prothesis, they were also able to tour around the country. The even learned about Passover customs. Before they return to their blood-filled country, they wish to thank the Israeli team: “Many, many people gave of their time to help us forget the horrible experiences we went through.”
Vasily and Sergei were not quite overjoyed to be interviewed and be identified, however, as proud Ukrainian soldiers, wounded on the battlefield in the bloody, unending war against the Russian invaders, they asked to be photographed wrapped in the Ukrainian flag.
When the idea arose to add the Israeli flag to the picture, the flag of the country that provided care and support during their difficult moments, they excitedly asked the staff of the Rehabilitation Medical Center where they spent the last few weeks to take the flag and keep it as a parting gift.
Vasily Smuilanko (42) is an officer serving more than two decades in a classified combat unit in the Ukrainian army. Six months ago, Vasily sustained a battle injury and lost part of his right hand. Five weeks ago, he received an offer to come to Israel to complete his rehabilitation and be fitted with a prosthetic hand which will enable him to return to his previous life to the greatest possible extent
According to Vasily, he agreed to be interviewed in order to show the world the war’s damages and as an expression of his gratitude to the staff at ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran rehabilitation village, situated in the Merhavim Regional Council in the Gaza Envelope, where he and his friend Sergei underwent treatment.
Though older in age, Sergei Davidenko (52) is seen as the younger soldier of the two. He enlisted in February 2022, at the beginning of the war and was sent to the front with his friends in an APC (Armored Personnel Carrier) following brief basic training. Sergei was seriously wounded five months ago when he lost his right leg. Since coming to Israel five weeks ago, Sergei has learned to walk with a prosthetic leg. He proudly shows us a picture of the Israeli flag drawn on the prosthesis.
Vasily hails from a small village in the Dnipropetrovsk Region of Eastern Ukraine. He is married and has two children. Sergei, married and father of three, was born and raised in the city of Donetsk, also in Eastern Ukraine. During the interview, which took place in Ukrainian and was translated by an employee of ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran, both men came across as very tense. When I told them that I have six children, Vasily laughed a smile-less laugh and commented that I am a hero. “If it was possible to support and properly care for my family, maybe I would also have six children, like you,” he added, suddenly turning serious.
Sergei worked for many years in a factory producing train engines, but when Russia invaded his country, he decided that his place was on the battlefield. “I wanted to serve my country during its difficult time,” he said. “Ukraine began developing and growing, and then this damn war began.”
Like many Ukrainian citizens, Sergei was not surprised when the war broke out, but still, he hoped to wake up to a different reality. “There was no flagrant hint that the we were about to enter a war, especially such a long one. Our economy was going in a positive direction and we, the citizens, did not have any sense that something like this was going to happen.”
Unlike Sergei, Vasily, a more experienced soldier, had a different, more authenticated and realistic understanding of the situation based on the operational tension he experienced, he claims, for almost ten years. “The Ukrainian War really began nine years ago, when Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, and annexed it to Russian. Then also, there was a mass recruitment and many people were injured. I personally took part in confrontations in that area.”
Vasily is not willing to talk about his present battlefield experiences, and Sergei also is short with words about his trepidations and fears as a soldier fighting against the Russian Bear. Still, he admits, “the main anxiety was when Russia tried to enter Kyiv, our capital city.”
This article is a translation of an article by Moshe Vistock which first appeared in Hebrew in Israel Today, 3 April 2023.