Andrii Chersak stood up for his treatment as prosthetist, Jeff Retallack, works to create the fitting for a carbon fiber leg. It was trial and error for the soldier.
"So it's going to give him really good stability," Retallack explained. "He'll have the tools to do everyday life for sure and I think things beyond that as well."
Chersak wants to do a lot more. He wants to fight again for his country.
"I want to go back and if they take me back I will go back to fight right now," he said.
Chersak was a construction worker and worked at a fitness club in his native Ukraine. He comes from a small village about 40 miles north of Odesa. At home are a wife and child, a boy who is a little over 1 years old.
"My son is missing me a lot. My wife is missing me a lot. I miss them a lot. Even more," he said.
Chersak was in an apartment in Boulder as he spoke and waiting for the next steps in getting the prosthesis that will help him.
"I didn't realize how many people want to help me here. I thought there were only going to be two people who were going to meet me and help me," he said.
But there turned out to be many more in his challenge ahead.
Arriving just before Christmas, he has been on a tour of people and places where he's been honored and supported.
The soldier also gained new friends like American firefighters who offer to work out with him.
Chersak has never been outside of Ukraine before and never been on a plane.
But about a week before the holidays, he took a 30-hour bus ride to Poland, then two long flights to Colorado.
All of it was figured and funded by a nonprofit that formed this past year after the onset of war in Ukraine.
"On paper, it seems amazingly easy," Kelli Rohrig laughed.
But it was a lot harder for the nonprofit and the solider.
Rohrig, who has experience in European politics, had been to Ukraine. Photos in Kherson show her witnessing the situation as the war worsened.
When she got back and connected with another person who had just returned, the topic of how to help came up right away.
"I thought this is kind of my opportunity to really see what volunteer work looks like?" she said. "I think we owe the Ukrainians a whole lot of respect. And I think they're putting up a battle that is really keeping the West safe."
Looking at needs, it seemed apparent that the medical system in Ukraine had little time or resources to help those who lost limbs.
Hospitals and doctors have, "Good intentions but they're just overwhelmed," she noted. "They're so overwhelmed, the quality just isn't as good."
And so they formed a nonprofit, "Limbs For Liberty."
On a subsequent trip, she started looking for people to help who were affected by the battlefield.
"So that's how I found Andrii. He was in the cancer hospital in Kyiv," she said.
They hoped to bring him to the United States. Eventually, they would connect with the Hanger Clinic in Gunbarrel, where prosthetist Jeff Retallack volunteered services.
The nonprofit was attractive to people like Irina Rastello. Now a volunteer, she got involved as part of her efforts opposing the war and the rule of Vladimir Putin. Rastello is a Russian native.
"You know I just couldn't sit back," she explained. "It makes me really mad… All of these people could have had their limbs. Their lives," she said about the war. "None of this needed to happen at all."
Chersak joined the war effort to fight for the freedom of his country.
"It was a difficult decision for me. I think everybody in Ukraine that joined to fight had to make that difficult decision."
He was in heavy fighting in Zaporizhzhia in August when he was injured. His convoy was attacked by Russians as his team took heavy losses.
"There were six vehicles. Out of six of them, we were the only ones that made it." Chersak said.
Their machine gun failed. Mortars started raining down. An explosion ripped through his leg and shrapnel wounds scattered across his chest.
"I felt it right away because I felt the stinging. I couldn't move my leg or get up because my lungs were punctured," Chersak said.
Lying there, he thought he might die following the mortar attack.
"My first thought was if they will start attacking me, I've got to be able to defend myself," he said.
Chersak prepared a grenade if the Russians came close. Fortunately, he was dragged to safety.
Getting Chersak to the United States was one of the first challenges for the soldier.
When he arrived in the states he got ill and needed hospital treatment.
Simple duties such as getting him clothing needed to be done.
At a Target store, they all laughed at themselves along with Chersak when they realized they needed fewer socks. He did not need a pair, but only one.
Although the soldier lost a limb, he is thankful for the help and attention from the nonprofit and for the American support of his country.
"After I survived and went through that experience I actually started seeing people differently. I see now good people and bad people," he explained.
Irina Rastello hopes Americans, particularly those questioning aiding Ukraine, do not wither from the support the country needs.
"That's exactly what Putin wants you to do. We need to fight for Ukraine. Ukraine is fighting in the front lines right now for all of us. For the democracy of the whole world," she said.
She continued praising Chersak saying, "He is a freedom fighter, he fights for all of us. He lost his leg for all of us."
After a fitting, Chersak will get some time to adjust to the new carbon fiber leg and will return home.
Limbs for Liberty is raising money and already looking for more candidates for prosthetics it will bring to Colorado.
For Chersak, fighting may not be definite in his future, but it is in his blood, which has been already spilled on the battlefield of the country he loves.
"It's an honor for me to be born in Ukraine and defend my land right now," he said.
For more information on Limbs for Liberty visit the website at: https://bit.ly/3IwHhZR
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