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‘My fingers can’t feel the trigger but no one cares’ How Ukraine’s ‘partially fit’ soldiers ended up in ‘purgatory’

Diego Herrera Carcedo / Anadolu / Getty Images

With Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine now in its third year, many soldiers still enlisted in the Ukrainian army are unable to fight due health problems. Some were declared fit for service despite having chronic health issues, while others were injured in the line of duty but not discharged. Many have ended up in reserve units — a fate the soldiers themselves call “purgatory,” since they cannot leave the army. With the Ukrainian authorities in the process of reforming military recruitment, including the work of military medical boards, journalists from Ukrainska Pravda set out to investigate what happened to those soldiers who were previously deemed “partially fit” for service. Meduza summarizes their findings here.

Anton Hrytsunov, a paramedic with the medical unit of the Da Vinci Wolves Battalion, told Ukrainska Pravda that there’s a line of soldiers at his first aid station every morning. Some of them need medical treatment for chronic illnesses, others want to “bring down” their blood pressure, and some are looking for referrals to see specialists at the nearest hospital.

According to Anton, there were no such lines in the first year of the war. Back then, besides the wounded, the soldiers seeking medical attention were mainly those with back pain or, in the case of artillerymen doing heavy lifting, hemorrhoids. “The old guys who had been fighting since 2014 also had chronic illnesses. But they treated them themselves and they would get in touch if anything happened [or] they had blood pressure problems,” Hrytsunov recalled. Now, he finds himself sending people to the nearest hospital every day. 

Ukrainska Pravda’s journalists believe that the current situation is a direct result of Ukraine’s mobilization policy, which led to people with chronic illnesses being recruited into the army and prevented injured soldiers from being discharged. 

‘I wanted to be useful’

Bohdan Tsyuryk, a 25-year-old senior gunner-operator, sustained injuries to his legs after coming under artillery fire in July 2023. Then, while he was awaiting evacuation, a mine exploded nearby, injuring both his hands, his shoulders, and his head. Tsyuryk was discharged from the hospital with five fractures and two open wounds. He managed to get himself readmitted and then referred for rehabilitation. A military medical board subsequently declared him “partially fit” for service. 

“My shoulder doesn’t work, I can’t wear a backpack, let alone a bulletproof vest. It hurts to move my jaw. My fingers can’t feel the trigger on a machine gun, but no one cares. If they won’t discharge me, then I want to be cured at least. But with all of my injuries, they say I’ll never regain my combat capability,” Tsyuryk said.

Before the war, Tsyuryk was a bartender in Kyiv. After Russia began its full-scale invasion, he volunteered to join the Territorial Defense. Due to his injuries, he will probably end up in a reserve unit. 

That’s what happened to Volodymyr, who was fighting in the Kharkiv region in the summer of 2022 — until he stood up the wrong way. “I twisted my knee, tore ligaments, a meniscus, and broke a bone,” Volodymyr explained. “A flak jacket, a machine, cartridges — I probably had 22 kilograms [of gear] on me.” (That’s almost 50 pounds.) 

After three operations and ten months of treatment, Volodymyr still hadn’t recovered. But a military medical board declared him “partially fit,” ignoring the fact that his injuries contraindicated any physical activity. 

Volodymyr wound up in a reserve unit, which he called a “purgatory” for all of those “who have nowhere to go.” Now, his military service is reduced to the odd assignment. “When I joined the army I wanted to serve in a combat unit and be useful. Now I can no longer fight or do physical work. And I don’t like sitting in the unit and collecting a salary for doing nothing. If I physically can’t serve as normal, I’d like to return to civilian life. But I can’t leave the army until the end of martial law,” Volodymyr explained. 

‘Frankly, some of them are disabled’

Another Ukrainian soldier, Mykhailo, recounted a similar experience. After a concussion left him with vision problems in one eye, Mykhailo decided to continue serving nonetheless. “The people around me had such [bad] injuries that I felt uncomfortable requesting an evacuation because of my eye. Even people with shrapnel [in them] were returning to their positions. I agreed that I’d go for treatment when things calmed down. But it never got any calmer — it only got worse,” Mykhailo said. 

Mykhailo developed a detached retina, which went untreated until he lost sight in that eye completely. By that time, it was March 2023, and he was stationed in partially-encircled Bakhmut. 

Mykhailo started treatment roughly five months after his concussion. As a result, a military medical board refused to issue him disability paperwork, since he didn’t receive a doctor’s note within two weeks of his injury. 

Anton Hrytsunov, the Da Vinci Wolves paramedic, told Ukrainska Pravda that the Ukrainian army continues to take new recruiters who aren’t fit for combat. “Right now, the most glaring problem in my work is fighters who were just mobilized but can’t complete any tasks due to the state of their health. Frankly, some of them are disabled, they just haven’t received that status,” he said.

In late April, Hrytsunov posted a video that showed a man in a military uniform trembling all over. The man, who suffers from anxiety and depression, was mobilized a year ago and then transferred from one hospital to another, until a military medical board eventually declared him fit for service. According to Ukrainska Pravda, the man was supposed to become a machine gunner but ended up getting transferred to a reserve unit. 

“The reserve company isn’t fair to these people. People get some kind of small salary and they aren’t discharged. Why keep them? I don’t know,” Hrytsunov said. Those not fit for service, he continued, would be better off working in the civilian sector. “No one is talking about demobilization, so they’re [in the same predicament] until the end,” he added.

* * *

As of May 4, Ukrainian military medical boards can no longer declare people “partially fit” for service. This status has been replaced with, “Fit for service in support units, military training centers, military educational institutions, medical units, logistics units, communication units, operational support, and security units.” 

Anyone previously deemed “partially fit” will have to undergo a medical reevaluation by February 2025 to determine if they are “fit” or “unfit” for service. 


‘Much more unpopular than anyone anticipated’   After months of deliberation and thousands of amendments, Ukraine’s new mobilization law frustrates politicians and soldiers alike


‘Much more unpopular than anyone anticipated’   After months of deliberation and thousands of amendments, Ukraine’s new mobilization law frustrates politicians and soldiers alike

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