Vitaliy Smilka

Veteran. Served in Iraq in 2000–2003, 2004–2006; in ATO zone in the East Ukraine in 2015–2016

I entered the Lviv Military Lyceum when I was 14. I served in the Kyiv Special Unit of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the peacekeeping mission in Iraq and the helicopter regiment in Novy Kalyniv, Lviv oblast. When the fighting began in East Ukraine, there was no way I could sit at home given my experience. I joined the Right Sector Volunteer Corps. I was injured from an explosion while fighting in the village of Pisky, near the Donetsk airport.

My wife told me we were expecting our third child. I joined the 59th Mechanized Brigade, formerly the Kyiv Rus Battalion. I am honoured to have served with them. We were deployed first to the Butivka mine, then near Crimea and then the Svitlodarsk Bulge.

We came under attack on December 6, 2015. There was a battle. I was shot in the leg. The doctors in Lviv and Kharkiv saved my leg, and after treatment I returned to service with an injured leg. Once home, volunteers helped me with my rehabilitation.

My father taught me to love exercise when I was a child. I always exercised because I liked it. After my injury, physical training became an integral part of my life. The doctors designed special exercises for me based on my injury.

I was inspired by our Paralympians to compete in the Invictus Games. I look up to them. These are people with remarkable moral strength. First they conquered their minds — understanding the importance of exercise — and then they conquered their bodies.

I look at others and understand that I can do this! I am setting an example that you must never give up.

I have a friend named Michael. His nom de guerre is “Angel.” He lost both legs, but he didn’t give up! He is staying strong. When I talk to him,I understand that I have no right to give up! I want to show others that you can’t close yourself off from the world. This is a stage of life and you will achieve a result, just in a different way. Your own way. The spirit of the Cossacks lives in us!