October 25, 2023

Performing music for wounded soldiers

Yesterday Sam and I met with a woman named Marta in Lviv. Marta and her boss are volunteers at a hospital in the town of Truskavets, about an hour and a half south of Lviv. I was referred to her by my friend and teammate Rob Rose from Raw Travel. Rob accompanied us this summer to document the war and volunteer work in Ukraine for his show.

Marta drove us to the hospital and we met the “senior volunteer,” Galyna. Galyna has a son in the army and she works tirelessly at this rehabilitation hospital as sort of a “barracks mom” and assistant to the staff and men. Galyna is a ball of energy and positivity.

First, we met with the head doctor, and learned that the men here were undergoing rehab for amputations and adapting to their new prosthetics. When the war broke out, this hospital was not set up for this. It had no equipment or staff that was trained to deal with these types of injuries or treatment. The doctor explained that in the first two years of this war, there have been 10 times the number of amputations than there were in 20 years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have seen this all over the country and you cannot go anywhere without seeing soldiers missing limbs or out for a walk on their prosthetic legs. Many soldiers with amputations have said they want to get through the rehab as quickly as possible in order to get back to the front and fight.

Wounded soldiers listening to music
Sam Cary playing for wounded soliders
Sam Cary performs for wounded soldiers in Ukraine.

After about 20 minutes we were led down a hallway to a lounge of sorts where a group of about 12 soldiers waited for us. The men all wore the battle hardened look I have seen many times before. But under the scarred armor, we could still see the soft hearts and peaceful demeanor of the true Ukrainian souls we know and love. Each was missing at least one limb.

Sam took a seat in the middle and Galyna introduced us, explained why we were here, and where we were from. The guys were also particularly interested in my Ukrainian tattoos. She played a few songs and the men recorded her. Like the first hospital we visited, they said they would watch them again and again after we left. After a few minutes the doctor joined us and asked if Sam could play country music. Then it was on. She added some Chris Stapleton, Johnny Cash and much more. Before finishing with Hallelujah.

Before Sam finished, Galyna addressed everyone as Marta translated. She explained how important it was that we had come and especially again how brave Sam was. The men nodded in agreement and one soldier named Andreii said this kind of thing gives them strength and they know they are not forgotten. This is a common theme here. They know they are fighting an existential battle and protecting the whole of Europe from Putin’s creeping tyranny. After almost two years, they are still confident in their victory but they know they are not able to do it alone. And they worry that they will be abandoned. Andreii shared a video with me of a western TV report about the rehab center and his story. If anyone is interested let me know. It is a great piece.

Galyna then removed her necklace, with a silver pendant representing the coat of arms of Ukraine. She placed it around Sam’s neck and hugged her. Tears flowed.

We went back to the doctors office and had coffee and visited again before leaving. Galyna walked us to the car and gave us each a huge warm hug and a tearful до побачення, which means “see you later.”

We drove the 90 minutes back to Lviv and picked up Marta’s two children, Sofia and Marko. We then went to a restaurant called the Teddy Cafe. Each table and booth has a giant Teddy Bear that joins you for dinner. Sofia is 12 and speaks perfect English. Marko is 6 and doesn’t say much but he laughs a lot. We talked about music, sports, school, gaming and things we have in common, which as always is a great deal. People really are very similar no matter where you go.
We said our goodbyes and headed back to the hotel where we promptly fell asleep.

Mark and Sam