Interview

“DOCTORS AND MY WIFE RETURNED ME FROM THE OTHER WORLD.” A MONOLOGUE OF IHOR HORDIYCHUK, A HERO OF UKRAINE.

He walks along the corridor of Traumatological Department of the Central Military Hospital. He makes every step very carefully, bending towards a special support. He smiles and repeats very quietly like a mantra: “Everything is OK, everything is OK”. 

Ihor Hordiychuk, a Major General, a Hero of Ukraine is literally a legend. He asked to be sent to the front line in the hottest months of 2014 and left his cosy study of the Deputy Head of Hetman Petro Sahaidachnyi National Army Academy in Lviv for a real hell – Savur Mohyla (a strategic height located about 5 km from the border between Ukraine and Russia).  He was severely wounded during the combats there. It was a miracle that he had been found among the dead and that he had been saved. He has been working hard every day to restore himself for more than four years and now he walks by himself in the hospital to visit his twice younger friend, whom he has got to know during the war. 

“Come Back Alive” Fund has spoken with Major General Hordiychuk about love and about how it is to be stronger than life and convince yourself, when there is a great desire to go the front line, but you know that you have already had your last combat there. 

“Immaculate shoulder marks – immaculate conscience”

”Doctors and my wife returned mе from the other world. You ask me about this famous picture, where she is holding me from my back. In fact, she was not holding me, but only supporting, because after I had been wounded, my body sometimes bends to one side. My wife is everything for me. My moral and mental restoration is her personal victory. I was also lucky to go for a long rehabilitation to the USA. Though our medicine has been developing, they still know more about military rehabilitation there. American doctors asked my wife not to help me. And probably to accept “let him do it by himself” was the most difficult for her. 

Photo: Facebook

By the way, my wife is a serviceman: a senior soldier, a contractor, an operator. Now she works at the communication centre of the Headquarters. Once she wanted to be an officer, but I told her: “Immaculate shoulder marks – immaculate conscience”. Soldiers are responsible only for themselves and it is much easier morally.

She accompanies me everywhere and worries when I spend long hours at work. I love her, our relations are superb. There have been different situations during years of living together. Once I told her a lie. When I was a commander of one of the special purpose regiments, all servicemen had a programme of jumping with parachute. My wife had to jump too and she was very scared. I decided that she would have no privileges among the others and asked her whether she had ever seen town of Khmelnytskyy from the height of aerial view. She replied “no” and said she would like to do it if there was an opportunity. I was very nervous the night before thinking that she would understand everything and refuse. But the truth was revealed on the spot and as she had already been instructed and there was no way out, we both jumped. Later my wife completed the whole programme on jumping with parachute.

“My biggest problem now is keeping a balance”

My rehabilitation has been still in progress after I was wounded in 2014. For example, I ran and played football before that. Now I tell myself that I still run and play football conditionally. I understand that if we take 100%, now I have covered approximately 0,001%, but I move on. I check myself every month, doctors examine me every two months: what I have managed to achieve, what the progress of restoration is. The majority which was lost, might be restored within some period of time. And my wife and I aim if not 100% restoration, then the fullest possible. We set the most complicated tasks and move towards them gradually: I have done this during a month, and I have done that during a few months. I do not substitute anything, I just move towards my goal. For example, to play football like before, I need to make let us say a million steps. Now I have made 18,5 thousand steps, but I continue moving towards the set goal.

I can speak English and I remember when I was taken to the USA I started telling doctors that I had maximum 2 months for restoration. I told them that my brothers in arms were waiting for me and I had to hurry. Servicemen with whom I had studied in the USA previously, visited me and told me a very important thing at that moment: “Yes, both your brothers in arms and Ukraine need you. But they need you in a healthy state”.

My first goal was to stand out from the wheelchair. I literally made everything not to be in it. When I stopped using a wheelchair, I used one model of walkers, then the other, then started using sticks, then a smaller stick, and I am going to start using even a smaller stick soon. In a few years I will not use it at all. Doctors had said I would not be able to walk without orthosis, that I would be using it the whole life, but I took it off approximately in three months. It was a real victory! I have already said, that I like setting goals for myself. I have parted with wheelchair and orthosis, now it’s time to part with the stick and walk by myself.

My biggest problem now is keeping a balance. After I had been wounded, I lose it and fall to the left side. Rehabilitologists from the USA gave me some practical advice: for example, to look into a mirror when I am doing something. My wife reminds me about it, but when I am alone and do something, I may forget about it. When I was in the USA I did everything with my right arm and it worked, everything was easy. Then doctors started telling me they would tie my right arm, so that I could do everything with my left arm. And they really tied it.

There will be answers to all questions

Before the war I was honoured to be the Deputy Head of Hetman Petro Sahaidachnyi National Army Academy in LvivAfter I have been wounded, starting from 2016 I am the Head of Ivan Bohun Kyiv Military High School. We have experience of raising future officers, but unfortunately, we do not have a magic stick which could change the system immediately.

Previously the school was considered to be almost “school of re-education”, now we ask parents not to send their children here as punishment, but vice versa try to encourage them to come here. The situation is still far from the ideal one, but I am sure we will stop all negative traditions. More than half of the cadets study here of their free will. There is a group of children, whom to help is our duty: to accept them and educate. Even if they doubt, we still must accept them, because they are children of those who have been killed, or children who are orphans, or children belonging to socially vulnerable categories.

We had representatives of “gilded youth” in the most negative meaning of the word, and we were not allowed to dismiss them, because they had entered the school by themselves. But in 2016 I said: “If there is insolence, if the cadets come here by Porsche Cayenne, we will make them leave with shame through the checkpoint”. Of course there have been scandals during the time of my work there: there were problems with nutrition, or a company stole money from a cash machine, and a few of our cadets were involved. I felt pressure, but I dismissed them. The same was with some teachers. I personally checked all of them: I told those who were negligent that the best variant for them was to leave. Nobody wants to be dismissed due to a serious reason.

Photo: gazeta.ua

I think that everybody should consider his or her mistakes regardless position or rank. To listen, to make people understand is the mutual task of servicemen, civilians and local people in the war zone. It is the same at school: I say that all participants of the process should be listened to. As soon as you listen to all of them, you will make the most proper decision. I tell the journalists: “Please, come. I would appreciate it if you help me to reveal and to stop any violation, either related to nutrition or supplies. Everything we have at school is for the cadets. I am thankful to the journalists, because without them I might not know some things. I receive reports that everything is OK, but I am against it: I like to reveal problematic moments as soon as possible”.

I have certain experience including combat experience, and that is why I see the mission of Ivan Bohun Kyiv Military High School in being the first place for preparation of future Ukrainian officers. Though it goes much deeper. From the very beginning I tell the cadets: “Boys, our task is not only to raise you as officers. We would also like you to be real citizens, people with clear civil position, unlike in the Russian evil empire, our enemy. We would like you not to be stupid, we want you to understand why you should study this and do that”. In case my colleagues or I cannot answer some questions of the cadets, I say: ”Don’t worry. We will prepare better and will answer all these questions. I can answer some questions immediately, without preparation, however, there are questions, which require one or two days of preparation. But I will definitely answer them”. 

At the same time, I disagree with some positions of the Ministry of Education and Science: they constantly increase assessment requirements, but we are servicemen and it is difficult for us to follow these changes. Only one candidate out of seven receives golden medal at our school.

“I tell them to come any time and feel free to open the door. When they come, I offer them coffee, tea and sweets”

There are children who have been made to study at our school. They were taken here from a railway station or even from a scrap heap. We try to socialise them, and we have psychologists. There are also cadets whose parents have been killed during the war. For example, Danylo Makovey. His father was killed, he was with me in Savur Mohyla. I tell Danylo: “Can you be a leader among your fellows students?”. He replies: “Yes, I can”. I tell all cadets to come to me any time and feel free to open the door. When they come, I offer them coffee, tea and sweets”.

There is also Edik Palianskyi. His father was killed in Maidan (during the Revolution of Dignity – Author), now he is in Heavenly Hundred (Ukrainians refer such notion to more than 100 protesters killed during the Revolution of Dignity – Author). At first Edik was in Boyarka, where the younger cadets study and then he came here, now he studies in the 10th grade. I told him: “Come on, Edik. It’s time for you to start helping me here”.

It is painful to see, when children know for example that they cannot enter the higher educational institution they dream of, or they know that during the years of study they will not have enough money to be like other fellow students. In such situations I always explain that even it is not so easy, but you still want to achieve certain results, go step by step. And you will succeed! If a person knows that everybody has equal opportunities, he or she will move forward. I believe it is important to inspire people to move ahead.

Photo: hromadske.ua

There is a boy here, who entered the Military High School as a son of a military man. But then his father was killed and his mother died. Only motivating talks are not sufficient in such situations, a psychological support is needed. So we work with the services of social protection of children. And we want the guardians to know: a person may not achieve something in civil life, but he or she can definitely achieve it serving in the Armed Forces. Children of those killed have already suffered so much, that we do everything for them not to have difficulties in future.

All my days in the Military High School have been planned. Monday is a commander’s day. On Tuesday we work with units, teachers, also I can make appointments with journalists. On Wednesday I go to Boyarka and communicate with cadets and teachers there. On Thursday we involve parents. The smaller a child is, the bigger his or her parents’ influence is. Our cadets are between 13 and 17 years old. We work with their parents, because the result depends on them as well: which specialisation a cadet will choose, whether he or she decides to serve in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and so on.

“We all are servicemen wearing the same uniform” 

To raise an officer you need to have more than one day or one month or even more than one year. There should be three components to achieve success: bright head, education and experience. As for the experience it can even be a negative one. For example, we had lots of losses, which could had been prevented. Let us not hide anything. On the contrary, if there is a trouble, we need to talk about it. But in any negative situation all turn their heads to the commander. OK, you set a task, but check first if it can be completed, if it is an adequate one. When a soldier trusts his sergeant, and a sergeant trusts his commander, then they will achieve the highest success. If a soldier is cold and hungry, but he sees that  his commander is taking alcoholic beverages 200 meters away, then they will not achieve the required result.

Many commanders have been trained by now. And in 2014 there were a few of them. For example, I was not only a commander, but I had lots of administrative work. Though I had an experience of being a commander of  regiment for almost 5 years before that.

I was prepared: I studied abroad and knew what psychotropic weapons mean. All those, who have been calling Russia to come, are restricted. If they do not watch news before they go to sleep, they can’t sleep. And it can be accompanied with a bottle or two of horilka (a Ukrainian alcoholic beverage – Author). Their treatment is possible, but it takes much time. Let’s take Crimea. They said they wanted to die in Russia. And we say we want to live in Europe.

We need to work hard. Despite all difficulties, despite pain and despair we need to move forward. In fact, it only seems that “nothing depends on me”. It depends on everybody. Let’s take myself: yes, I understand that most probably I will not have any combat work any more. To tell you the truth, I would like to be invited to the zone of the Joint Forces Operation (war zone in Ukraine – Autor). My experience could definitely be useful there.

But I am here, at the Military High School. And on my personal level I do everything I can, so that Ukraine could be free, could have real officers and great people. Previously, I was the last one to leave the working place and the first one to come, now there are some changes after I have been wounded. But it does not demotivate me. At first I spent half a day for rehabilitation procedures. Now it takes me 2-3 hours a day. At the same time I always try to find some time to communicate with teachers and cadets of the Military High School. I try to keep the door open. We have here almost 20 people, who participated in combats. I tell the cadets: “You are cadets now, but  the majority of you will be officers and generals in future. We all are servicemen wearing the same uniform”.

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