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Updated: Jul 25, 2023

We certainly know the damage caused by our northeastern neighbour's air strikes, especially when they affect the lives of people just like us. Most Ukrainians remember well the Kinzhal strike on the Retroville shopping centre in Kyiv. But do we know the stories of the people who witnessed the March horror?

One of them is Artem Melnyk, a 29-year-old resident of the capital who suffered from Russian aggression on 20 March 2022 near the Retroville shopping mall. When the full-scale invasion began, he joined a volunteer battalion, although he admits that before 24 February he could not imagine a war in the 21st century. Nevertheless, when it started, he signed a contract and began training in Kyiv. At first, he and other volunteers were assigned to patrol the streets. From time to time, they would go to residential complexes in Kyiv to check buildings and clear them of sabotage and reconnaissance groups, which they were constantly receiving reports of.

On 20 March, one of their missions was to the territory of the Retroville shopping centre. Artem, performing a combat mission, was in a car when a Kinzhal missile hit 200-250 metres away from him. Even though no one knew what type of missile had hit the capital's shopping centre, the blast wave and the approaching flames were moving at breakneck speed towards the car Artem was sitting in. "I remember the rest in fragments. I was thrown out of the car. I don't know how long I was lying on the asphalt. When I came to, I tried to stand up. Everything was covered in rubble from the shopping centre. I got up, fell down, and got up again. I didn't feel any pain then. I walked for a while and then I was completely out of it," the volunteer recalls.

The man suffered numerous third- and fourth-degree burns of 30-35% of his skin, namely his face and hands, which were on the steering wheel at the time of the impact. In addition, Artem was electrocuted and suffered fractures. When he was taken to hospital, he was not fully aware of what had happened. Moments after the missile strike, he regained consciousness, but not for long. "I don't remember if it was before the intervention or after, but one of the doctors was standing next to me in the corridor. I asked him for his phone, found my girlfriend on social media and recorded an audio message that everything was fine," Artem says, adding jokingly: - "He said that I was a bit burned, but I'll be out in a few days.

In reality, the situation was not so positive. Although his limbs were still there, the burns were too deep. Artem had a hard time psychologically, he couldn't even pick up a spoon, let alone a phone. After the skin transplantation on his hands, he had severe swelling, which caused such dysfunction of the limbs. It was difficult to even touch finger to finger.

A few days did not last for months, but will last for several more years. Now Artem is undergoing treatment with the Neopalymi project of the Ukrainian Volunteer Centre. The project operates thanks to donations from both Ukrainian and foreign donors and helps treat burns and scars for people affected by Russian aggression. Artem Melnyk was the first person to join the project, and interestingly enough, it was quite by accident. While he was preparing to go to a health resort, his girlfriend published a post with a collection for his rehabilitation. Oleksandr Turkevych, a dermatovenerologist, notes that the post went viral, people "tagged" the Neopalymy page, and that's how he learned about Artem's injury.

Sometimes the issue of rehabilitation is not so easy to solve. In Artem's case, there is virtually no possibility of obtaining the status of a war veteran or at least some social security from the state. In the early days of the full-scale invasion, national legislation was far from perfect in protecting the military, but it has partially improved over the course of the year. Nevertheless, certain procedural issues remain unresolved.

Artem Melnyk did not receive a combat order from the command of his military unit when he was performing a mission near the Retroville shopping centre. Without such an order, the man cannot pass a military commission to register his disability or receive at least a combatant status, not to mention any financial assistance.

"For us, there was not even a question of financial assistance or equipment when we went to defend our homeland or directly to defend Kyiv. We joined the volunteer battalion with virtually nothing, we had no helmets or vests, we collected or bought everything at our own expense. And now, when it comes to your health and return to normal life after defending the country, you simply cannot get any documents," says Artem.

The state must provide adequate legal protection to all victims, including those who for some reason did not receive a combat order. Without streamlining the provisions for the protection of wounded soldiers, people will sooner or later lose trust in the state, which may accelerate the undesirable consequence for our society in the form of an enemy victory. Preventing this and protecting the victims of this war is our critical and equally justified goal.

Volunteer Artem dreams of full recovery, ending the war, and, of course, opening the borders. He says that he plans to travel in the future, see more of the world and spend time with his loved ones.

People are the highest value in this war. What can the state offer to protect them? The question remains open.

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"Olya, it's me! I'm alive. I'm in Chechnya." Squeeze the phone in your palms, never let go, and wait for the call. And when it does ring, feel first horror and then immense, all-encompassing happiness


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