Ukrainian Ex-Combat Medic Receives Rehabilitation at Yokohoma Hospital; Heals Wounded Soul in Japan

Japan News photos
Top: Igor Kholodylo receives rehabilitation at a hospital in Yokohama on Thursday.
Bottom: Igor Kholodylo talks with a physical therapist responsible for the rehabilitation department at the hospital.

YOKOHAMA — Igor Kholodylo was told he would never run again, but now finds himself on a treadmill in Japan, far from the Ukrainian battlefield where he suffered injuries caused by Russian shelling.

“It was a miracle,” the 57-year-old Kholodylo told The Japan News during a recent interview. “In Ukraine, my traumatologist told me, ‘Forget about running. You can live without running.’”

Kholodylo, despite his advanced age, was serving as a combat medic when he was badly injured. Among his injuries were damage to the optic nerve of the left eye and trauma to the shoulders, pelvis and knees.

He arrived in Japan with his wife in April and has been making steady progress during a rehabilitation program involving one hour a day from Monday to Friday at a Yokohama hospital. The hospital is operated by the TMG Yokohama Future Healthcare Systems, a medical corporation.

Since Russia started its aggression against Ukraine in 2022, the hospital has launched a project to support Ukraine with humanitarian assistance through such activities as raising donations for medical aid and creating a guidebook showing useful phrases for medical checkups in Japanese, English and Ukrainian. It also accepts Ukrainians who have suffered injuries on the battlefield.

Kholodylo is the second Ukrainian to have been accepted by the hospital.

On Jan. 19, 2023, Kholodylo suffered a serious concussion after his vehicle was hit by a Russian tank shell near Avdiivka in the Donetsk region, which was a hot spot of the war in Ukraine at that time. He was behind the vehicle at the time of the assault, approaching it to get a stretcher and evacuate comrades as Russian forces were attacking his unit’s position.

“I blacked out. I found myself 31/2 meters away from the car,” he recalled. “I thought I had lost my left leg, as I didn’t feel it completely.”

Courtesy of Igor Kholodylo
A vehicle is seen near Avdiivka in the Donetsk region of Ukraine after a Russian tank shell hit it. Kholodylo was behind the vehicle at the time of the assault.

Initially, Kholodylo did not feel serious pain because of adrenaline, but severe pain did come later, which traumatized him.

“Every two minutes, I vomited. I also had dizziness and terrible headaches and felt disoriented,” he said. “I couldn’t move properly for three months or so.”

Kholodylo did not have any military education or experience before pro-Russian separatists seized control of local governments in Donbas and Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014. He was previously a manager of an agricultural enterprise.

But the conflict led him to serve in the National Guard. When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, he was in the reserve and was immediately called up.

Serious shortage of soldiers

The Japan News
Igor Kholodylo runs on a treadmill during his rehabilitation at the hospital.

As the war has entered its third year with no end in sight, Ukraine is facing a critical shortage of soldiers as the number of casualties is apparently increasing daily amid Russia’s continued offensive. In April, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed legislation to lower the conscription age from 27 to 25 and tighten rules against draft dodgers, while another law signed last month allows some prisoners to join the army.

“A huge number of injured soldiers and civilians are waiting for rehabilitation. It’s really a problem in Ukraine now,” Kholodylo said.

Asked about what kind of support is needed for Ukraine from other countries, including Japan, he said “any kind of support.”

“It’s not just a war between Ukraine and Russia. It’s a war between democracy and dictatorship,” he said.

“The only way to achieve peace is to fight Russians,” he also said. “A clever guy understands that you have no deal with a devil. The best way is to have no deal with a devil because if the devil comes, you can’t make an agreement.”

Medical evacuations

According to the Ukrainian Embassy in Tokyo, about 10 Ukrainians, most of whom volunteered to fight in the war and were injured amid Russia’s assaults, have received or are receiving rehabilitation in Japan through various arrangements by entities such as the embassy.

On the hospital side, accepting such Ukrainian patients appears to be something that is being carried out through exploring the best options for the individual.

“We had never handled rehabilitation for war wounded before, so at first, we were concerned about whether or not we could deal with such a patient,” said a physical therapist responsible for the rehabilitation department at the Yokohama hospital.

Through the support project, hospital staff have also come to feel that the Ukrainian situation is not just somebody else’s problem.

“Having seen the attitude of trying to protect their country, even at the expense of their own lives, we’ve been given an opportunity to think about what we should do if Japan were in the same situation,” a medical professional in charge of the project said.

Kholodylo plans to leave for Ukraine in mid-July. He expressed his desire to help rehabilitate injured soldiers after returning to his country. He said rehabilitation is not just about the body but also about healing the soul and mind. While in Japan, a country he had never visited before, he said he has been fascinated by Japanese gardens, which are well-balanced and harmonize with nature.

“Seeing such beautiful things is part of the healing process for me,” he said.

Kholodylo, who has two daughters and three grandchildren, said his ultimate personal goal is to live in his hometown again with his family. He also added that he wants to create a small Japanese-style garden at home.