Oksana Balandina remembers her first dance with her husband Viktor Vasyliv. It was in a hospital ward in Lviv, Ukraine. The groom lifted his wife up in his arms and turned her around between the hospital beds, as she put one arm around his neck and held a bandaged hand to his chest. The newlyweds were just 23 years old at the time. It was a private moment they never thought they would share.
But the experience took on a whole new meaning after Balandina lost both her legs after walking on a landmine on March 27 shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine.
“I only managed to shout to him [Vasyliv]: ‘Honey, look!’”, said Balandina, as she recalled the moment it happened.
“He looked at me when the mine exploded. I fell down with my face on the ground. There was an extreme noise in my head. Then I turned around and I started to tear off the clothing on me. I thought it would be easier to breathe because there was not enough air,” Balandina recalled.
Vasyliv, who was walking behind her, was unhurt.
“When it happened, I gave up in despair, I did not know what to do. I saw her not moving,” he said.
“If it was not for Oksana, I don’t know what would have happened. She is so strong. She did not faint. It was Oksana who coordinated our actions,” he added.
Balandina has spent the last month being treated in various hospitals around the country. In the end, doctors had to amputate both of her legs and four fingers of her left hand.
She said she spent many of those days in a dark place.
“I did not want to live… I didn’t want to live such life, I have two children. I didn’t want them to see me like this. I did not want to be a burden for anyone in my family,” said Balandina, speaking in hospital.
“But thanks to the support, I accepted it. I need to keep living. It is not the end of the life. If God left me alive, that’s my destiny.”
Her two children – a 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter – are now safe with their grandparents in the Poltava region in central Ukraine.
After celebrating their wedding in hospital, the couple are hoping to travel to Germany where Balandina will get prosthetic legs and undergo rehabilitation.
The road ahead is long and with no sign of the Russian invasion coming to an end, Balandina says she can only focus on the here and now, and on her recovery.
“I want to go back to our town, to Lysychansk, but frankly speaking, I am worried for my children. When the war is over, there will be so many things happening. The road was mined… It is scary,” she said.
Russia denies its troops kill or target civilians in what Moscow calls a “special operation” to disarm the country and protect it from fascists.
Vasyliv said he’s grateful for each day he gets to share with his new wife.
“I was afraid to lose her. I wanted to cry, but I could not cry. I was shocked, I could not comprehend that it was happening indeed. It was terrifying to lose the person I love,” he said.