Ukrainian soldier, 55, with no legs fights to defend home from Putins troops

A Ukrainian soldier who is 55-years-old and lost both his legs is fighting to defend his home from Vladimir Putin's invading forces.

Vasil Shtefko, whose mum was Russian, volunteered to fight after Vladimir Putin started his "special operation" in late February. This is despite the car mechanic losing his legs at the age of 38.

His wife Oksana was making pelmeni, traditional dumplings, when he called saying he had enlisted and was heading to the east, from their home in the village of Kushnytsya in central Transcarpathia, Ukraine’s westernmost region.

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“I didn’t believe he would do it. I cried a little,” she admitted. But then she regained her self-control. “And I went back to my pelmeni.”

Vasil, who didn't want to reveal how he lost his legs, joined the 128th Mountain Assault Brigade, an elite military unit of some 6,000 soldiers based in Transcarpathia.

In 2014, he was rejected by the brigade due to his disability but when Putin invaded earlier this year, he told the committee that he has only one prosthetic and got in.

“Without pulling up his pants it’s almost impossible to know,” Oksana said. “They all found out in the combat zone when he accidentally broke one of the prosthetics.”

The “Transcarpathian Legion” enjoys legendary status because of its efforts in defending Luhansk Airport during Russia's last large scale incursion into Ukraine in 2014.

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A year later, the group fought in Debaltseve, one of the biggest combat zones in the Donbas in eastern Ukraine, now the focus of Putin's attention and where Russia-backed separatist groups fight with Ukrainian forces.

The brigade were honoured with several titles, including Hero of Ukraine, the highest national title, for Serhiy Shaptala, the brigade’s commander and current Ukrainian Chief of General Staff.

What makes the brigade unique is “its special training for fighting in the mountains,” Yaroslav Halas, a journalist-turned-soldier and the brigade’s press officer, told The Daily Beast.

Shtefko, who serves as a driver and mechanic, told The Daily Beast from the front line that he thought about enlisting the moment he learned about the war.

“I love my country,” he said. “Whatever obstacles I’m facing, I’ll overcome them in order to defend Ukraine. [My country] put me on my feet helping to get prosthetics, she offered me a pension, moderate as it is, but still.”

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