Volodymyr “Shamil” Sheredeha was injured in the war and has not been able to walk since. He overcame depression, was in a psychiatric hospital twice, and now he helps other wounded fighters — a long interview

Yuliana Skibitska
Yevhen Spirin
Volodymyr “Shamil” Sheredeha was injured in the war and has not been able to walk since. He overcame depression, was in a psychiatric hospital twice, and now he helps other wounded fighters — a long interview

Volodymyr Sheredeha, who most people know by the nickname "Shamil", is 30 years old. In 2014, he dropped out of university and volunteered for the “Dnipro-1” battalion, fought in the anti-terrorist operation zone until 2015. Immediately after the invasion on February 24, he signed up for the Territorial Defense. In the summer, Shamil injured his knee while on duty — a minor, at first glance, injury due to improper treatment resulted in Shamil being almost unable to walk. It will soon be a year since he went through the surgery. Shamil experienced depression and lost faith in himself, twice in an acute condition he was admitted to the Pavlivka psychiatric hospital. Now he posts actively on Twitter — he already has 28,000 followers. Shamil talks a lot about his experience in "Pavlivka", the army bureaucracy, and also collects money for the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers. "Babel" editor Yuliana Skibitska met with Shamil and talked with him about Ukrainian Twitter, charity, stigmatization of mental illness, as well as what wounded fighters go through — and whether it can be changed somehow.

How are you now?

Better than two weeks ago. At least, I started to resemble a living person, because earlier I could neither watch anything, nor read, nor talk to people. Now Iʼm already sitting at the computer normally. I am doing things on the Internet that I couldnʼt do before. I can communicate with someone.

How do you walk? Did it get a little better?

I just started walking three days ago. First I walked around the apartment, then I went outside. Doctors said that general progress can get visible in three to four months, that is, itʼs a long period, a long way. I asked the doctor: "What are my chances of returning to a normal life?" He said, "Quite high."

Unfortunately, your story, when an injury is worsened after improper treatment, is not unique. Many soldiers have faced this. Why, do you think, it is so?

There is simply not enough good doctors in Ukraine. This applies to both military and civilian medicine. There are not enough qualified personnel for such a number of wounded. Good doctors donʼt have enough time to operate or treat everyone who wants to. There is not enough state capacity, there is not enough technical and human capacity for the scale of the current war. This applies, by the way, to all fields, not only medical treatment.

You wrote such bitter tweets that a military serviceman in our country is the most disenfranchised person with whom you can do anything you want. Do you really think so, or was it anger at what was happening to you?

It was anger, yes. Although a serviceman does not have the right, for example, not only to undergo surgery where he was not sent, but also to be treated in a private clinic. Having the opportunity to find the necessary financing, I wasnʼt able to go abroad for treatment in time. Simply because of the bureaucracy. Maybe I will make that in the future. But generally [those tweets] were motivated by anger, and thatʼs actually a logical state of affairs. Thatʼs how the army should be, itʼs a mechanism that works only if an ordinary person follows orders. And following orders often means going to death. Otherwise, the entire meaning of the existence of this structure disappears. If we are talking from the moral side about an individual person, then this is a tragedy. But on a national scale, someone has to die for the country to simply continue to exist. It doesnʼt work the other way, unfortunately.

Do you think there is something in this treatment system that needs to be changed?

I think people should be given the opportunity to choose where they can and want to be treated. To enable those who can afford treatment at their own expense to be treated in private clinics.

At what point did you start tweeting a lot about whatʼs going on with you?

I started Twitter just as a joke when I was still in the service. I wrote some nonsense there, like how ordinary people write a diary, jokes, some situations. And then it kind of took off.

What mood do you see in Ukrainian Twitter?

Everyone is tired. For the first six months, people were euphoric. The time of euphoria has already passed, the war has entered a protracted phase. From the first year, moral and physical exhaustion begins.

Recently, I have often come across the opinion, particularly among the military on Twitter, that 2023 is our new 2015. People begin to distance themselves from the war emotionally and not only. Do you agree with this?

I donʼt know what peopleʼs moods are, Iʼm a “city madman”. Iʼm talking about the fact that the military themselves, volunteers and the same urban crazies like me are tired. Life goes on in Kyiv as if everything is normal. People [who fight] still have to be replaced after some kind of probation, because they get physically tired. Thank God, we still have a mobilization resource, because people are not caught on the streets, as in Donetsk and Luhansk.

The opposite opinion is that already experienced people will be replaced by those who do not know anything.

Well, ideally, it is necessary to systematically train the mobilized. Bring out experienced people gradually, put them as instructors for the inexperienced. That is, it should be organized at the highest levels, and not at the level of volunteers and urban lunatics, as is happening now.

You often wrote ironic tweets, where you made fun of hurrah-patriotic sentiments. Have these sentiments become less now?

I think thatʼs how it stayed. Everyone [in their dreams] is advancing on Belgorod, in the Crimea they are already resting in the summer. I think most people are sure that this year everything will be over and we will celebrate the victory on, say, the Independence Day.

And what do you think?

I donʼt know. There may be some decisive fighting during this year, but most likely the front line will still remain. Even if it is along the border of Ukraine in 1991, it will still be the front line — as was the case in Donbas in 2015-2016. There will be constant shelling and victims. And this will drag on for a very long time, until something changes in Russia, or if our partners will get bored with us and stop giving us shells.

Are you mad at these hurrah-patriotic sentiments or do you take them calmly?

Iʼm humorous. I understand where they are coming from, I understand that society should not live in constant panic and depression in relatively safe areas.

There is an opinion that we need another threat of occupation of Kyiv so that society consolidates.

I donʼt understand why there is a need for a threat to Kyiv, what will change from this? Let the society live a calm, peaceful life. On the one hand, it is, of course, unfortunate for the military, for people who take a direct part in the war. On the other hand, those who are not mobilized probably have the right to a peaceful life. If we are constantly in a panic, everything can break faster.

How did you start raising money for military rehabilitation?

Accidentally. It all started with the fact that I was lying in the hospital after the third operation and saw a some womanʼs fundraiser. Her husband was injured, his arm and leg were broken, and he needed 12,000 hryvnias every month for rehabilitation. In general, there is a big problem in the country, because there are not enough places in hospitals for the free rehabilitation of military personnel. I retweeted her tweet, wrote "drop the money" and we collected it in five minutes. After that, people, acquaintances, friends started writing: "I have a friend, he needs to have his joint replaced. And there is a volunteer army unit, and it has no money." Somehow it took off on its own.

About how many people write to you?

A few people a day. Acquaintances or friends usually write. Or acquaintances of friends.

How much money have you already raised and how many people have you helped?

About twenty people received help in a month. I donʼt know how much money was collected. People collect on their cards, and I just provide the details.

Why is the state not doing enough to rehabilitate the military? Is this lack of money or political will?

We have no money. We live on handouts, which are given to us because we are at war with Russia now. As much as they [our allies] give us, thatʼs how much we live. As many shells are given to us, for that long we exist. If they stop giving, we will stop. We ainʼt got nothing but fanatics like us. After the war, we wonʼt have anything either, if they donʼt give us money. And then we turn into a failed state, with an unknown and sad future.

Do you think there will be any global large-scale military rehabilitation programs?

I want to believe it, but in fact I donʼt really. There is such a cool term among doctors — "quality of life". Quality of life is when you cannot be cured, but your suffering can be alleviated. Well, we can contribute to increasing the percentage of people who will be able to improve this quality of life.

What do you plan to do with these donations next? Maybe it will be some kind of foundation or a structured campaign?

You see, I canʼt do anything while Iʼm in the military. I canʼt register myself as an individual entrepreneur, I canʼt register a foundation, I canʼt register anything. In some future... I canʼt think about it until I have decided on my future in the army. I still have to pass the military medical commission, it will take a long time, several months at least.

You wrote a lot about the military medical commission, that the military are forced to go through it in difficult conditions, they donʼt even have a place to sit.

I canʼt blame the state or anyone for this happening. I understand that there is simply no money, capacity, personnel. We can collect money for benches in Kyiv and put these benches so that there is a place to sit in the queues.

But itʼs still about the attitude of the state to people. Whatʼs the problem with putting benches, itʼs not that expensive, isnʼt it?

I donʼt know. The state does not have enough capacity for this conveyor belt of unfortunate wounded people, which now have to be dealt with. The state machine wasnʼt designed for all this, in no country would it be possible to do so. But we are still doing well. No country could be ready for such a war.

You wrote that a volunteer team was organized in Kyiv to help the military at the commission, right?

Itʼs just people who are trying [to help] have gathered in Kyiv. [Substantial] changes must be either from above or from below. If you make changes from below, you still have to negotiate with someone. You wonʼt do a damn thing if you come and start telling everyone theyʼre assholes. You will simply be kicked out of the hospital. In general, a hospital is a regime facility. Civilians are not allowed on all these military medical commissions. Everything that happens now is simply because of the human factor.

Letʼs be honest: if what happened to you had not happened, would you have felt so much for the other wounded soldiers?

I think I wouldnʼt. I wouldnʼt think about it, just like all people donʼt think about infrastructure for people with limited mobility, for the disabled. Itʼs normal, thatʼs how the psyche works. We havenʼt yet reached the level of civilization in our country when you think about less protected social groups, even when it does not concern you personally.

We once went with a friend to the Maidan, there in the underground passage some dudes were holding an experiment. People were asked to help the wheelchair down the crossing. We did this. Then it turned out that this is specifically done by activists to show how many people agree to help and draw attention to all these problems. But I wouldnʼt be doing all this if I hadnʼt encountered it myself.

You were in the psychiatric hospital twice. How did you realize that you have reached such a point that you need to go to there?

When I realized that I am afraid to kill myself not because I want to, but because I can no longer tolerate this state. I can already do something with myself, just so that it all stops in my head. This too, no one will ever understand among people who have not faced it. They do not have any empathy, even in our generation, not to mention older generations. We have not yet reached such a level of civilization, it seems to me, to understand these things.

Were you like that yourself?

Yes, I was like that myself. I just didnʼt know it existed. Like many, I thought that there was only schizophrenia, when everything is already completely, well, in a state when you canʼt take control of yourself.

You wrote that the first time you were discharged from Pavlivka in a few days. I thought at the time that it was very similar to the army bureaucracy that you go through all the time — and now you ran into it again.

In fact, there were quite normal doctors in the department where I was put for the first time, they tried to communicate with me, treat me, and select pills. Then their boss came [and discharged me]. They [doctors] do not want to accept the military.


Because everyone believes that the military are trying to avoid service this way. The hospital personnel on the lower level understand how things are, and the superiors just donʼt want to contact the military. The head doctor just asked me: "Do you always perceive difficulties in life this way?" And I was discharged on the same day. Although I should have some sort of medical check-up, at least for a few days.

Your first tweets about Pavlivka were very humorous. Tell me, who did you see there and what was the atmosphere like?

There are completely different people, just like in life. From people who planned to confirm their disability group, to schizophrenics and others, I saw every possible diagnosis there. And the atmosphere... There is a "strict" section. Itʼs like a prison, itʼs very similar to how we stereotypically perceive the psychiatric hospital. This "acute" ward is closed, the doorknobs are in the nurseʼs pocket. When they receive you at Pavlivka, they put you there first. Until the psychiatrist talks to you, the nurses and orderlies have no right to let you out of the "acute" ward. The door there is always locked, even to go to the toilet, you have to call the orderly to open it for you.

How was your second time?

I ended up in a ward where people with such diseases as schizophrenia and dementia are kept. Roughly speaking, those people lie there for the rest of their lives. And you see it, you understand that they... live here. And you feel like...


Yes. In the first department there were more acute patients. They were received, treated, and let go. And the second had eight beds in a room, and I understood that at least six would live here for the rest of their lives. Because of this, the atmosphere was creepy.

Have you not met the military?

I met. There was one soldier in this second ward who said that "I fought for two months at the beginning of the war and then spent all this time in these institutions." He says: "I will not return there [to the war]." He says that he is hallucinating, tanks are driving over the walls. There are many people with whom, if you talk to them for half an hour or an hour, you will never understand that they have some mental disorders or diseases. The soldiers I saw were without any external signs of mental disorders.

You started a Patreon, where you publish stories from Pavlivka. Is it for the money or is it trying to find yourself?

It is about money and for the soul. I decided to combine the useful with the pleasant.

Is it a little easier for you, considering that you have certain physical limitations?

To be honest, no. Itʼs just that at a certain point I realized that I had to keep my head at bay. Because otherwise there will be nothing: neither a leg nor anything else will be needed. And it seems to me that I am now at least starting to improve in this direction.

Honestly, I think that if you were alone and you didnʼt have your wife Julia, then probably nothing would have worked out.

I think I just wouldnʼt be able to exist.

I just wonder how many more soldiers like you will be there. And will they be able to overcome challenges?

They will sit at home, no one will know about them. And no one will ever see them on the street. They will be sitting at home, talking quietly, stay in unsanitary conditions, and they will be very lucky if the neighbors give them to the mental clinic in order tosteal their apartment. Because in the asylum they will at least be fed and changed their clothes once a week.

Do you think there is nothing more optimistic for us?

I say that there will be such people and that we will not solve the problem entirely. It is necessary to understand that these are just diseases like any other. For example, PTSD, which has already screwed up everyone, because not only PTSD affects the military. These are diseases that need to be treated, people need to be helped. We say that a person was injured, that a person lost, for example, an arm, that he or she needs funds for treatment. In the same way, we can say when a person is mentally damaged.

To what extent do you feel there is a stigma [in Ukraine] towards such people now?

I think itʼs getting a little better now. Since the beginning of 2022, at least. Now it just directly touched such a number, such a percentage of people, that there is some progress.

Shamil and his wife Yulia.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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