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Petaluma doctor aids wounded Ukrainian soldier

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Find out more about Revived Soldiers Ukraine:

http://www.rsukraine.org/

In the midst of the carnage of a thankless war in Ukraine, Evhen Redka’s life was forever changed.

While on a mission to clear the road ahead of his troops in an eastern Ukrainian village last June, a mine detonated next to the 28-year-old, killing his partner. The explosion caused him to lose an arm and an eye, crippled his left leg, scarred his face, knocked out his teeth and mangled his jaw.

Much of the help he needed was not available in Ukraine, a county whose medical care is struggling to keep up with an influx of injuries from a bloody conflict with pro-Russian forces, President of Revived Soldiers Ukraine Iryna Vashchuk Discipio said.

“Ukrainian doctors could not take the load,” she said. “Ukraine has never fought a war, the hospitals weren’t ready, nothing was ready.”

With the help of the nonprofit Revived Soldiers Ukraine, Redka made an unlikely journey of more than 6,000 miles to Petaluma. There, Peter Redko, a local podiatrist, returned to the young soldier something the war had stolen from him: the ability to walk without a cane.

“We were able to help someone from halfway around the world with medical care in Petaluma,” the 43-year-old doctor said.

Redko, also of Ukrainian descent, met the soldier while attending a Sunday service at San Francisco’s Saint Michael Ukrainian Orthodox Church earlier this year. The congregation was told of Redka’s plight, and the doctor stepped up to offer his services for free at his east Petaluma North Bay Foot And Ankle Center.

“He wasn’t able to put his heel on ground and his ankle was locked in a fixed position. He was only able to walk on the tips of his toes – almost like you’re wearing high heels without wearing high heels,” said Redko, who has been practicing in Petaluma since 2004. “We examined him and did an operation to stretch his Achilles tendon and ligaments to allow him to be able to put his heel on the ground.”

Redko has also been scrutinized by the Board of Podiatric Medicine for surgeries that were said to have been botched. We was placed on three-year probation in 2013, and the board is considering another disciplinary action this month.

The hour-long Feb. 16 procedure was just a part of a larger continuum of care provided to Redka during his stays in the U.S. last fall and this winter, trips sponsored by Revived Soldiers Ukraine. He returned to Ukraine in mid-March, Discipio said.

He was also provided with dental reconstruction surgery, a prosthetic arm and other procedures to return his life to a semblance of normalcy, she said. Much of the work was donated, and his case cost the nonprofit about $3,500.

During his most recent trip, he stayed with a host family in Petaluma for about two months, Discipio said. That family could not be reached for comment.

For Discipio, a Ukrainian whose 27-year-old nephew was killed as his helicopter was shot down by enemy forces in 2014 and whose brother also served in the war, the mission is a personal one.

“With all that’s happened, it just hit me so hard,” she said. “All of a sudden, I became patriot again – we need to do something, we have to move. We can’t sit still.”

Find out more about Revived Soldiers Ukraine:

http://www.rsukraine.org/

She started her nonprofit in 2015 to help provide medical care to soldiers wounded in the conflict, bringing some to the U.S. and helping some in Ukraine. The organization also covers transportation, housing, food and related costs and sponsors U.S. medical visas, she said.

“It’s crazy – they’re losing people every day. Today, we lost 22,” she said in a Monday phone interview from her home base in Florida. “It doesn’t get any better. We’re doing what we can with the medical stuff, but we’re dealing with the injuries, not preventing anything.”

In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in a referendum the country decried, and that April, the capital city of Keiv’s government began its first formal military action against pro-Russian rebels who overtook government buildings across eastern Ukraine, according to CNN. Protests and violence continued to escalate in a crisis that is “largely forgotten by the world,” UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ursula Mueller said at a Feb. 28 conference in Brussels, Belgium, according to the UN News.

From the beginning of the conflict in mid-April 2014 until Nov. 15, 2017, at least 10,303 Ukrainian people were killed, while at least 24,778 were injured, according to a 2017 UN report. That includes at least 2,523 civilian deaths, with the number of conflict-related civilian injuries is estimated to be between 7,000 and 9,000, according to the report.

More than 1.6 million people fled their homes, while about three million people remained in areas under control of armed groups, according a report from earlier in 2017.

Since 2016, the nonprofit has helped 24 soldiers get care in the U.S. and facilitated care for 27 soldiers in Ukraine, according to its website. In the past year, it has raised more than $180,000 to help those wounded and has also purchased rehabilitation equipment, Discipio said.

She’s now working to open a rehabilitation center in Ukraine modeled after one of her American partners, Los Angeles-based paralysis recovery center NextStep. Discipio is a former professional athlete who has been in the U.S. since she was recruited to run for the University of Southern California in 2003.

Redka did not respond to requests for comment. Discipio said the soldier was initially required to serve in the military, but decided to stay on by contract.

Redka, like many other wounded veterans in America and overseas, is struggling to find his place in the world outside the battlefield. He’s currently continuing treatments in Ukraine and cannot work, Discipio said.

“He has a good sense of humor, with those kind of injuries you’re kind of working a lot with the wounded solider and they just accept that they’re disabled and they go with that, they’re making fun of this and themselves and they’re just staying positive,” Discipio, 35, said. “And he wants a lot of things, he just wants to be needed.”

Staying in the U.S., where he was hosted by various families while undergoing treatment, served as a balm of sorts for the battle-weary warrior, she said.

“Even though he’s outgoing, and making fun of everything all the time … he has mental (health) issues and it did help him to feel needed in the U.S.,” she said. “A lot of people were helping and families were hosting him and people were taking him different places and showing him stuff and I think that’s a great mental rehabilitation. He said that so many people cheered him up and it’s just great … to get outside of Ukraine and feel needed by different people, random people.”

Redko, the Petaluma doctor, said he’s helped others in the community with pro bono work, but this was his first foray into mending war-related injuries. He’s thankful Sonoma County is far from such violence, but is grateful to have played a role in reconstructing a young man’s life.

“It’s gratifying, I enjoy the medical field, of course, to me it’s not a job, it’s almost like a hobby,” Redko said. “It’s really nice to be able to give back to people in need who are struggling to find help that isn’t available to them in their native country. It’s a pleasure that we have the resources and ability to do this, not only for ourselves, but for those from other parts of the world.”

(Contact Hannah Beausang at hannah.beausang@arguscourier.com)