‘The Wheelchair Is My Legs’

Posted on June 20, 2024 in: General News

‘The Wheelchair Is My Legs’

Working with the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation, Ukrainian Knights help disabled veterans and civilians regain mobility

By Solomiia Karpiv



Mykola V’yuk’s involvement in the war against Russia began March 27, 2023, when he received his draft notice at his home in the Rivne region of Ukraine. Less than four months later, his unit was engaged in combat operations in the Luhansk region when it came under mortar fire. He suffered shrapnel injuries that led to the amputation of both his legs above the knee.

The journey to recovery has been arduous for the 41-year-old father. But he is learning to live anew — “on different legs,” as he says.

“My wheelchair is my life, my legs, and we are already a single unit,” V’yuk said. “I have no other way to get around. And there are hundreds, thousands, of guys like me.”

V’yuk is just one beneficiary of a collaboration between the Knights of Columbus and the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation that has delivered more than 300 wheelchairs to Ukrainians affected by war. The effort began in 2015, in response to Russia’s invasion of the Crimean Peninsula and the Donbas region the year before.

“There was a proposal from the supreme knight and Christiana Flessner, CWF executive director, to buy several containers of wheelchairs and send them to Ukraine,” said Ukraine Past State Deputy Youriy Maletskiy, who at the time was a grand knight. More wheelchairs arrived from the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation in 2022.

“This assistance with wheelchairs is important because we have many wounded — not only military, but people, who, as a result of shelling of civilian infrastructure, were left with injuries, amputated limbs and musculoskeletal injuries,” Maletskiy continued. “This support allows them to continue to participate in society: going out, socializing with others, going to the hospital.”

The wheelchairs are provided on an as-needed basis. Each K of C council assesses the needs of its parish and community, submits a list to the state council, and then distributes the wheelchairs and walkers when they are delivered.

That’s how Knights from St. Josaphat’s Council in Radyvyliv and Holy Life-Giving Cross Council in Brody came to deliver a wheelchair to Mykola V’yuk. One of them was Yaroslav Kutsil, V’yuk’s old saxophone teacher.

“He was my student! He has always been a good guy, and now he’s keeping his spirits up, supporting his family,” Kutsil said.

“People in my town knew I was injured. And when I was able to visit home for the weekend, they brought me a wheelchair,” V’yuk said. “It was such a pleasant surprise.”

V’yuk is currently in a rehabilitation center in Lviv. His amputation is a complex case that Ukrainian medical facilities cannot handle; with help from an American charity called Revived Soldiers Ukraine, he will soon travel to the U.S. for prosthetic treatment. But, even with prostheses, he will need to use a wheelchair some of the time.

Despite his challenges, V’yuk remains active, working out daily, engaging in art therapy and participating in an art exhibition to support the military. Just two months after his injury, He kayaked 20 kilometers along the Dniester River. Then he climbed a 15-meter tower using only his hands, a feat even able-bodied individuals found challenging.

His story of courage and resilience has been captured in a recent book; Sergeant V’yuk by Andriy Chobot highlights his experiences and the impact of the war on his life.

V’yuk also served as a voice for Ukrainian service members and veterans in the novena organized by the Knights of Columbus on the eve of the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion.

“I was very nervous, constantly worrying about reading well,” he said of his experience being recorded for the novena video. “Issues with attention, concentration and memory are common after a concussion among all the veterans.”

But V’yuk was grateful for the novena and the prayers offered from around the world. “When people come together, it’s always good,” he said. “In prayer, it’s even better.”


SOLOMIIA KARPIV writes from Lviv, Ukraine.