Veteran Viktor Dykyi: “The hardest thing in life is not to give up and win over yourself.”

Viktor Dykyi, born in the village of Stepove, Blyzniukivskyi district, Kharkiv region, probably knows what the will to live is. After being seriously injured and losing both his legs, the man had the strength to return to sports and is now training hard at a sports camp to take part in the Invictus Games (an international Paralympic-style sports competition). Viktor also dreams of running a 42-kilometer marathon and helps to motivate anyone who is losing hope.

Viktor was born in the family of Mykola and Valentyna Dykyi in 1979. In the first grade, Viktor suffered his first grief – he lost his mother. The physically developed boy was in love with football and hockey from childhood, so everyone was happy to have him in their teams. After school, he entered the Sloviansk Aviation Technical School, but some time later he was drafted for military service.

After the army, he graduated from a railway transport technical school, got married, became a father of two sons, worked as a railway dispatcher in Lyman and simultaneously studied at Kharkiv University of Railway Transport.

From ATO to the big war

Life would have gone on as usual, had it not been for the events of 2014 that shook the whole of Ukraine. Viktor could not stay at home when the enemy seized part of his homeland. So he volunteered to join the Artemivsk battalion. In February 2015, when Ukrainian troops were getting out of the encirclement near Debaltseve, the man was wounded. Then he underwent a long treatment in hospital and even longer rehabilitation. Adjusting to a peaceful life was difficult. What made him return to everyday life was the birth of Victoria, his younger daughter.

Since then, everything has changed. Viktor seems to have found a purpose in life: for several years he has been training hard, constantly improving his achievements.

“When I went to war in 2014, I was terrified that I would get injured and lose my legs or arms. Because I didn’t know how I would live later. But after I got wounded and returned to civilian life, I decided to try myself in the Invictus Games. Since then, my worldview has changed, because next to me, extraordinary people with no limbs and serious injuries showed their will power. They came to the Games not to win the competition, but to win over themselves and their physical capabilities. So in 2022, I took up a weapon without any fear of a possible disability,” Viktor says.

Viktor was calm when the 2022 full-scale invasion began, because he understood that the Russians would not stop there and would seek to seize more and more territories. Viktor wanted to rejoin the ranks of his Artemivsk battalion, where he had been fighting since 2014, but the battalion was already manned. So Dykiy, together with his fellow comrades-in-arms from the ATO, went to serve where the Territorial center for recruitment offered – it was the Donbas National Guard battalion.

A chance for life

In the winter of 2023, the Donbas battalion was fighting near Kreminna. On the day Viktor was seriously injured, he was on duty.

“We were 150 meters away from the enemy. On the morning of December 26, everything was calm. I took the radios and the thermal imager to the headquarters to charge, and brought a box with ammunition back to the position. And I was already free after a two-hour duty. I remember that my fellow soldiers and I decided to have coffee near a dugout… And at that time, a mine hit right under our feet. I was thrown into the trench,” Viktor recalls. “When I regained consciousness, I raised my head and realized I had no legs. I looked at my watch – it was 13:50, there was a commotion around, but no one came to me. I decided that I was the most difficult and hopeless person, and the last thing I would see in my life was those fir trees around me. After a while, I looked at my watch again – it was 14:00. And I was still alive. And then it dawned on me that I could and should survive. And then I started calling for help.”

His comrades put on tourniquets on the wounded man – in addition to his legs, which were held together only by the skin, his arm was badly damaged, and the evacuation team took the man to the Lyman stabilization point.

“Our Olenka – a combat medic with the codename Panda – ‘made magic’ on me, performed some medical manipulations and kept telling me that everything would be fine. I believed her and asked to be taken to hospital alive, because I promised my daughter to dance at her wedding,” Viktor recalls.

After the stabilization point, there was a hospital in Kramatorsk. There, the soldier had his both legs amputated and was taken to Dnipro for treatment.  He underwent another operation.

“In Kramatorsk, they told me they had to amputate my legs up to the knee. But they warned that there are no such prostheses. And that’s why they suggested cutting even higher. And I agreed. Even then, I clearly understood that I would learn to walk with prostheses at any cost,” Viktor emphasizes.

Viktor with his son Denys

And then a new struggle began – to return to full life. The soldier received mechanical prostheses under a state program in Lviv. He began learning to walk again. His true support was his family: his sons, wife and, of course, little Viktoria. Their faith made the man’s willpower even stronger. Despite the extraordinary pain, he exercised every day, put on prostheses and continued learning to walk.

“In my dream, I ran, jumped, danced, carried my wife in my arms, threw my daughter into the sky… I woke up and realized that I could do all this by learning to walk on prostheses. That was my motivation,” — Viktor says.

Life is priceless

Over time, Viktor was able to achieve what he wanted. It cost him superhuman efforts. Now he can walk and continues training in the gym as much as the mechanical prostheses allow.

“On such ‘legs’, it is impossible to even step over a curb normally, let alone move fast and fulfill my dream of running a 42-kilometer marathon,” the man says. “I’d like to have good functional electric prostheses, but one costs 2.5 million hryvnias, and of course, my family cannot afford it. So for now, I live the way I do. I mostly use a wheelchair. By the way, the war gave birth to many people like me, so please don’t look at us pityingly or try to snatch my wheelchair from my wife’s hands to help me off the bus. I’ll ask when I need it, because I’ll never let my wife drag me and strain herself. It’s nice when people make eye contact with me and simply put their hand to their heart and say “thank you!” It does not humiliate, but gives strength.”.

It is difficult for a person without legs to live in Ukraine. In fact, there is no access to many social services for such Ukrainians. Viktor, who is still undergoing rehabilitation, is renting an apartment in Kyiv, where he lives with his wife and daughter Viktoria. He is training at a gym near his home and is preparing for the Invictus Games, where he will compete in archery. Recently, he visited his native village on his own.

From June 1 to 3, another stage of the Invictus Games took place, which supports Ukrainian servicemen and veterans on the way to physical recovery, psychological rehabilitation, and social integration. For Viktor, like many others whose body was mutilated by the war, these Games are an impetus for full adaptation in the future.

“I adore life. It is beautiful and priceless! If fate gave us, those who went through the hell of war, a chance to live, we must use this chance to the fullest. I despise those who give up and stop fighting. The most effective rehabilitation is your faith, family love and sports. This motivational set brings you back to socialization, to normal life, increases self-esteem, allows you to look at your own life from a different angle.”

Author: Iryna Voronkina, editor of the newspaper New Life, Blyzniukivskyi district, Kharkiv region

*All photos are provided by the author.

 Supported by the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. The views of the authors do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Government.