As 18-year old Rusya Danilkina and her two army colleagues drove into the Ukrainian city of Kherson, they heard the familiar whistling sound of incoming shelling. By then it was too late.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Rusya was 18. She lived with her mother, Svetlana, who works for the Ukrainian military’s personnel department, and stepfather, Anatoliy, commander of a military platoon, in the port city of Odesa.
Antonia Hoyle, writing in the Daily Mail, shared how Rusya started in an office job because of her age but she begged her commander to let her go to the front. When Rusya persisted, he allowed her to train as a volunteer radio operator, monitoring enemy movement, aviation and attacks. She quickly learned to use a gun, impressed her superiors with her ability to keep calm under pressure during military exercises, and after a month had landed a role largely occupied by male volunteers at least a decade her senior.
Duty shifts were spent in the trenches, often overnight. She was in a hole in the ground, under threat of shelling, in danger and scared all the time. She says she got used to this feeling.
Her commander deployed her to Kherson, a city in south central Ukraine under constant Russian shelling. Just north of Kherson her vehicle was hit by a shell, tearing off her left leg and leaving her in a state of shock. Her colleagues were horrified by what they saw. By God’s providence, military doctors had been driving to Kherson behind their vehicle. After the second round of shelling subsided they carried Rusya to the back of their van, and put a tourniquet on her leg. By the time they’d rushed her to Kherson’s Chornobayivka Hospital, she had lost so much blood that, she recalls, “my doctor told me I was lucky — a few seconds later I would not be alive”.
Life Was Over
That night she couldn’t sleep at all. She couldn’t stop crying, both because she was in pain and mentally, because she knew she’d lost her leg. As Rusya underwent four further surgeries to reconstruct the remainder of her leg and sew up her wound, her mother rushed to her bedside, sleeping next to her daughter.
Her waking thoughts were of suicide. Life was over. Her parents and brother were brokenhearted because she suffered so much.
It was their despair that ultimately proved a turning point for Rusya after days of unbearable torture. “Seeing them suffer, watching me suffer made me realize I had to find a way to fight. I’d survived. Now I had to keep living. I wanted to recover for them.” She remained in hospital for a month as her stitches healed and she learned how to do everything, from getting out of bed to dressing, with one leg and crutches.
“I had no idea I would be strong enough to survive, but losing a part of myself has taught me never to take life for granted again. I’ve changed. I’m happier now, in spite of everything. I want to show the world the strength of the Ukrainian people. I don’t regret going to war or losing my leg. A few days before the tragedy, I felt in my heart that something bad was going to happen to me, and I think this happened for a reason.”
Ruysa is the pride of her nation. She has become an international symbol of Ukrainian defiance. The costs to Ukraine’s population are beyond quantifying, but patriots like Rusya show the true spirit of a nation who didn’t start this war but want to finish it.
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