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In dark times, you can see the bright people, especially those who sacrifice something every day for our safety, whether it is time, money or the most valuable thing - their lives. One of the heroes of this war is 30-year-old Ilya Pylypenko from Vinnytsia, who quit his main real estate business when the full-scale invasion began and volunteered for the front in early March. Since his military service in 2011-2012, Ilya had some tank driving skills, and although the knowledge is forgotten over time, he did not let that stop him. He sent his family abroad and realised that he could no longer stand aside.

On 2 September, while in the Kherson sector, Ilya and his comrades were given an additional combat mission, which they took on a minefield. There, Ilya's tank hit mines, exploded and caught fire inside. His comrades, who were sitting in the upper part of the tank, were able to get out easily because they usually just covered the hatch without closing it. Ilya, who was in the lower part and was responsible for the mechanics, could not help but close the hatch so as not to block the functional purpose of the upper turret. And so it happened that he was left inside alone, separated from the outside world.

Initially, the man lost consciousness and could not respond to signals from the radio, causing his friends to worry. However, when he regained consciousness, he realised that he was enveloped in flames and had to make an urgent decision. "Perhaps the biggest fear of tankers is to be burned alive. I often imagined such a situation, and maybe that's what worked," admits Ilya. Everything around him was on fire, and the hero realised that something was wrong with his leg. But everything was happening on automatic - there was no time to think. When he got out and crawled to the roadside, his comrades ran up to him and managed to evacuate him.

After his injury, he began a long recovery process. Ilya initially turned to the team of the Neopalymi project, which helps civilians and soldiers affected by the Russian-Ukrainian war. The project operates thanks to the generous support of donors and foreign partners who provide financial and professional assistance to treat Ukrainians with burns and scars. Ilya fitted this description, so together with the Ukrainian Volunteer Centre and their "Unburnt" heroes, he started treating his scars in Odesa and is now continuing it in Lviv.

Recovery, in addition to the physical component, has an emotional one. For Ilya, like many other wounded defenders, it was quite difficult to return to life at first. This process was gradual. In the first days, he could not think about anything at all, he was only incredibly grateful for his life. "Later on, I felt like I was born with a shirt on, but as I like to say, with short sleeves," says Ilya, pointing out that he was really lucky, though not one hundred percent. The first stage of recovery was going out, even though at first I didn't want to do it at all. Often there were very sympathetic looks that lingered for a long period of time. At such moments, Ilya evokes the most unexpected reaction - he smiles. He says that the worst thing is when people come up to him and start saying things like "Oh, you fought in the war, what happened, oh my God, I feel sorry for you!" You don't have to do that. "I don't feel sorry for myself, so why should you feel sorry for me?"

So what is the right response? The best thing to do in this case would be, first of all, if you are staring, to smile, because there is nothing complicated here. "I think that those people who come out just want to be part of this society. They want to be accepted as they are, and there is nothing wrong with that. We are all real people, there are just some nuances. I think the best reaction would be either a smile or a nod of the head."

If you are really curious, you should ask the person before quenching your thirst for curiosity. Is it okay to ask? Can a person even answer this question to a stranger? First, you need to understand whether it is appropriate at all. If you approach and ask "Can I talk to you? What happened to you?" Ilya is convinced that 80-90% will say "yes, I'd love to tell you". And it will probably be the most frank conversation you'll ever have.

Is there life after such injuries? Definitely, yes.

Wounded people are still people, with their own plans, intentions and dreams. After such situations, you just start to understand the value of life. Ilya dreams of correcting his face, arms and everything else that can be restored at this stage of medical development. Currently, he is undergoing physical rehabilitation and the process of removing the external scar deformity. Although his non-functional leg was amputated, he is already preparing for prosthetics and dreams of conquering new sports peaks soon.

Sport has always been an integral part of his life, especially when he participated in marathons and football matches with his friends. And even now, with some injuries, Illya believes that he will return to his past dreams, as well as fulfil those that appeared in his imagination after his injury.

A former tank driver, Illya sincerely believes in victory. "A lot of our best guys have already fallen. This is not going to go away, there is no turning back. No one will raise the white flag. We will only go forward!"

Indeed, we will not raise the white flag anymore. This war shows us once again that every question has an answer, every problem has a solution, and every trauma has hope. Life does not end with such injuries, but only gives us a deeper understanding of the meaning of our existence. It is no wonder that they say that "those who know why to live can withstand any kind of how".

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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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