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Unwavering Compassion: Iryna Vashchuk Discipio’s Mission to Heal Ukraine’s Heroes

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As Ukraine reaches a solemn milestone of two years since the invasion, the spotlight falls on the remarkable dedication and unwavering commitment of Iryna Vashchuk Discipio. From her achievements on the track to her transformative work in aiding wounded soldiers, Vashchuk Discipio embodies determination and compassion. She has tirelessly advocated for those who have sacrificed for their country, establishing Revived Soldiers Ukraine to provide crucial rehabilitation and support. As the nation reflects on the enduring challenges faced since the invasion, Vashchuk Discipio’s efforts serve as a testament to the strength and solidarity of the Ukrainian spirit.

Raised in Irpin, Ukraine, a city outside of Kyiv, Iryna Vashchuk Discipio attended Olympic reserve school and ran for the Ukrainian National Team. In 2003, she came to the United States to join the track and field team at the University of Southern California, where she set a regional record in the 1500m run and was named an All-American in track and field and cross country running. After college, she coached division I track and field teams at Pepperdine University and Loyola Marymount University.

When Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, Vashchuk Discipio’s focus shifted to helping Ukraine’s wounded soldiers recover from severe injuries. As an athlete, she understood the importance of physical strength and resilience, qualities she channeled into assisting those who have sacrificed for their country.

“The injuries were insane. You see broken bodies, burned bodies, it was so crazy to see that. It was very powerful,” she says. 

She began donating money to support wounded soldiers, but, realizing it would be a while before the war ended, she started to take a more sustainable approach. Vashchuk Discipio reached out to her connections in the medical field and began working with nonprofits in the United States that treat wounded Ukrainians. But many of them didn’t treat soldiers.

With limited medical infrastructure in Ukraine, soldiers with complicated injuries had nowhere to turn.

“The Ukrainian medical system was not ready for those injuries. Ukraine never fought a war [before this] and the medical system was so poor.  Our military hospitals were like nothing. No medication, no dealing with infection no dealing with injuries, it was very, very bad,” Vashchuk Discipio says.

In 2014 she collaborated with the Ukrainian Federation of America to bring her first soldier to the United States for rehabilitation at Next Step Fitness in Los Angeles. She began Revived Soldiers Ukraine the following year to scale the operation, and in 2021, opened Next Step Ukraine, a rehabilitation center in Irpin. It was the first cost-free rehabilitation center in the country. 

Vashchuk Discipio spent years talking about the war in Ukraine, but it wasn’t until Russia’s invasion in 2022 when RSU’s work really started to gain attention.

It wasn’t easy because at first Ukraine wasn’t as popular within the United States. In 2022, on February 24, I felt like the entire world heard what I was trying to say for eight years, and we started working harder and more.

Iryna Vashchuk Discipio

It’s difficult to capture the tragedy that’s unfolded after two years of nonstop war in Ukraine, but the statistics that are reported are bleak. In 2023, it was estimated that upwards of 20,000 Ukrainians have had one or more limbs amputated since the start of the war.

Amidst this ongoing crisis, RSU and Next Step Ukraine play a critical role in providing vital support and rehabilitation services to those affected. Last year, Next Step Ukraine’s four-person rehabilitation team in Irpin saw 151 wounded serviceman and civilians for treatment.  Meanwhile, RSU brought 39 wounded soldiers to the United States for prosthetics and rehabilitation treatment at no cost to the patient. To date, the organization has brought a total of 80 wounded soldiers to the United States for treatment and helped over 1,000 soldiers receive medical care by paying for their medical bills or treating them at Next Step Ukraine.

Many of these patients had multiple amputations or upper limb amputations. A person with a leg amputation above the knee, for instance, cannot walk on mechanical knees, hinge joints that rely on muscle movement and control. The solution is to fit the patient with myoelectric knees, “smart” knees that adjust to the environment, allowing patients to climb up steps, hills, and walk backwards all by selecting certain functions on a smart phone.

But it can take 3 to 4 months just to get a patient fitted for prosthetics and standing upright. Then, they have to learn how to walk. None of it can happen without funding.

“It’s not only money to pay for prosthetics but also to work with the person to fit them in prosthetics and help them learn how to walk and learn how to use their new legs,” Vashchuk Discipio said.

A grant from BBF Global Relief will bring four more soldiers over to the United States in 2024.

Previous funding from BBF helped RSU open its second rehabilitation center, Next Step Lviv, by purchasing Amadeo and Diego equipment from rehabilitation technology company Tyromotion. The state-of-the-art devices use virtual reality to help paralyzed patients restore function in their arms, hands and fingers. Only a handful of them are available in Ukraine, most of which are in private rehabilitation facilities.

Most recently, BBF helped RSU fund a specialized treadmill that uses virtual reality to help patients with neurological injuries build coordination and relearn how to walk. At the time of writing, the equipment was in the process of being sent to the rehab facility in Lviv. Once it arrives, it will be the only piece of equipment of its kind in Ukraine, making RSU the best rehabilitation facility in the country, according to Vashchuk Discipio.

“We’re going for it, we’re going to make this happen,” she said.

In recognition of her remarkable work, in 2023, Vashchuk Discipio received the second degree of the Order of Princess Olga award, the highest recognition bestowed upon women in Ukraine. This prestigious accolade, presented by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, stands as a testament to Vashchuk Discipio’s extraordinary dedication and contributions to her country. Her unwavering commitment to aiding wounded soldiers and her tireless efforts in establishing and expanding Revived Soldiers Ukraine have not only garnered widespread acclaim but also earned her the admiration and respect of her fellow citizens. The Order of Princess Olga award serves as a symbol of recognition for Vashchuk Discipio’s exemplary leadership, compassion, and unwavering commitment to serving her community and country.

“It’s an honor to be recognized for the work we do,” Vashchuk Discipio said.