Oleksandr Shvetsov, war veteran (first from left), with the disabled soldiers he accompanies on “Pilgrimages of Hope.”
“Yes, I am a believer and I pray every day. But to be honest, I’m not a role model. He’s joking Oleksandr Shvetsov when he admits that he considers himself a “straight” Christian. But don’t touch him Lourdes. Because it has to his resurrection in the French Marian shrine: about the drama of an amputated leg, about the abyss of depression, about the “tunnel of alcohol and drugs that I sank into when I came home without the limb,” he says. Oleksandr is a war wounded man. He lost his leg at the front while fighting against the Russian military in the Lugansk region. Not in the nineteen months of the full-scale invasion, but in 2014 at the beginning of the conflict in Donbass, which speaks of a nine-year Ukraine in the trenches.
Oleksandr Shvetsov, war veteran who was “reborn” in Lourdes after a leg amputation – Shvetsov
Today the 38-year-old veteran, who lives in Zhytomyr, is the Samaritan of war amputees. A doctor of the soul who has decided to dedicate himself to the organization “Pilgrimages of Hope” for former soldiers, like the one who “brought me back to life in Lourdes,” he says. His thoughts return to his recruitment. Dictated more by circumstances than by authentic conviction. “I had to sell an apartment to expand my mother’s apartment and I needed a document from the military district. When I showed up, they invited me to join the army. There were other guys next to me who were asked if they were ready: they said yes. I couldn’t refuse it either and said yes.” He was in the 30th Mechanized Brigade. He was 29 years old. “At some point our commanders sent us to the front on the outskirts of the city of Lugansk, to the settlement of Vesela Hora. We had not yet had time to build the trenches when the enemy attacked us. After an hour and a half of fighting the fire, something flew near me. I tried to stand up, but my legs couldn’t support me. Oleksandr had been shot. “My companions pulled me behind them. The doctors were already waiting for us there: there were many injured people besides me. Then the trail in the medical van and then the helicopter flight to the military hospital in Kharkiv, “where the leg amputation took place.”
An initiative for disabled soldiers organized by Oleksandr Shvetsov (first from left) – Shvetsov
Private Shvetsov was safe, but scarred: in body and mind. For months he refused to wear the prosthesis. “I didn’t accept what happened to me. I started drinking. Then came the amphetamines. I thought they would help me psychologically. It was an illusion. Until they offered him to go to Lourdes. “Before I left I always had a terrible headache and was very worried. However, when I visited the pools in the sanctuary, the problem disappeared.” Oleksandr doesn’t talk about healing or miracles. “I’m pragmatic,” he adds. But from that moment on, I told myself that my former comrades must also feel what I had felt. This is how the idea arose to accompany her to Lourdes.” And not just at the foot of the Pyrenees, but also in other places for the soul: from Krakow to the Red Sea. Called his “Hero Bus” project Because it all started with a minibus. “I had it available. There were 18 seats. However, I did not have enough money for fuel and hotel accommodation for the first group of disabled soldiers I wanted to bring to France. And here is another grace. “I wrote a post that received thousands of replies. And one patron, Yuriy Kogutyak, agreed to pay for everything.”
An initiative for disabled soldiers organized by Oleksandr Shvetsov – Shvetsov
An adventure that expanded with the attack in February 2022. “If in our group of released people there are those who have decided to take up arms again,” explains Oleksandr, “ I mobilized to raise funds for the army, thanks in part to the exposure of our trips on social media. The major gaps that the armed forces had had to be filled». Here is the start of the Paramarathon for people with disabilities. “We drove 120 kilometers in October with a companion who had lost a leg and an arm.” Goal: Buy an endoscope for a military hospital in Kiev. Well, in the end, one company provided us with the entire kit.” Oleksandr still remembers the experience of the battle. “Friendship connects us at the front with the goal of protecting our families and the country.” A nation that the military activist already imagines in peace. “We have wanted this for 32 years, since we regained our independence. “I can’t wait to see children playing happily in parks without the inhuman fear of bombs,” he sighs.