Challenge accepted!

Everything was dark and little made sense when 27-year-old Andrii Smolenskyi finally regained consciousness. “The whole mission was just a dream,” he thought to himself as he lay in bed. “Why’s it so dark?” Andrii, still groggy from having just woken up, thought the blanket was draped over his head. “Then I realized that I couldn’t pull off the blanket,” he recalls. And he could feel something over his eyes, which, at first, he dismissed as a sheet, until he got a feeling deep in his gut that something had gone horribly, horribly wrong. He fell back asleep, for how long he’s not sure.

When he awakened a second time, Andrii recalls, he could vaguely hear doctors speaking nearby. He tried to call for help but couldn’t utter a word – there was an incision in his neck and a ventilator tube in his throat. Unable to speak, he tried to spell out his questions in the air, waving a stump instead of his hand: “What’s happened to me? What’s happened to my hands? Do I have my hands? Why can’t I see?” Andrii’s mind raced as he tried to quantify the loss of the life he once knew. As he lay in bed suspended in disbelief, he felt a presence in the room with him and then a gentle touch on his leg, “Alina,” he thought to himself.

A few days earlier two Ukrainian soldiers had arrived at the couple’s home in Kyiv to tell his wife Alina the news that Andrii had been wounded in action. Alina recalls one of the soldiers telling her, “He doesn’t have his arms. He doesn’t have his eyes. And we don’t know what the future will be right now.” Alina travelled seven hours by car to be with her husband. She spent two days at his bedside, hoping and praying, until he finally awakened from his coma and realised she was by his side.

Alina’s love and support is a vital part of Andrii’s rehabilitation. Alina says, “You know, everyone told me, ‘Alina you are so strong. You are doing such a lot of things.’ But don’t think that I am doing something special. He’s my husband. I love him. What else should I do? That’s not something heroic for me.” Andrii says, “My wife is incredible. She’s my hero and is with me 100%.” Andrii is also “grateful to God” to have escaped any brain injury. His call sign in the army was “the apostle”, and he believes his survival was miraculous. He says, “Psychologically it was hard to get through, but when I accepted my new body, I would say I felt good. Challenge accepted!”

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