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Goodacity – Dare to be Good

Olha Sahal
Written by
Olha Sahal
Written by
Technical Writer at United Thinkers

I am the author of the Goodacity blog, a journalist, and a translator. For 16 years, I have worked in professional journalism, contributing to regional and national publications, both in print and online media. I have written reports, conducted interviews, reviews, articles on cultural, social, and charitable topics, as well as materials in the style of "solution journalism" and communication materials.
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Yulia Didyk
Reviewed by
Yulia Didyk
Reviewed by
Culture Manager at United Thinkers

I am a manager of cultural affairs and a project manager with over 14 years of experience at United Thinkers. I have participated in the organization of numerous successful social and charitable projects and have implemented informational campaigns and communication cases.
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Veteran Olha Benda on Life with a Prosthetic, Sports, Motivation, and Motherhood

never give up

In the photo, a delicate and beautiful woman wearing a traditional Ukrainian wreath and embroidered shirt stands out, contrasting with her camouflage uniform and the prosthetic left leg she lost in Donbas.

Olha Benda, a veteran of the 72nd Separate Brigade named after the Black Zaporozhians, is a happy wife and mother of two sons, an athlete, and the new ambassador of the Ukrainian Veterans Fund!

“My life motto is tattooed on my arm: ‘Never give up!'” says Olha. “With my prosthetic, I have mastered surfing, rollerblading, earned my driver’s license, and completed a 10-kilometer Marine Corps Marathon in the USA. I also got married and became a mother for the second time!”

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"Never Give Up" - A Tattoo and a Life Motto

In the hospital after her injury, Olha asked a nurse to adjust her wounded leg. She recalls crying when the nurse dramatically lifted the blanket: “Which left leg? You don’t have one.” 

Now, instead of a leg, she has a steel prosthetic, and instead of despair, she has a strong Ukrainian spirit!

Each day of her life is filled with events. Football training – Olha Benda is the captain of the women’s amputee football team, meetings and communication with fellow veterans, her work as an ambassador for the Ukrainian Veterans Fund, and her role as a social projects development manager for the Ukrainian Football Association. And that’s not to mention her two children and volunteering! 

“I don’t even think about how much I do – it all just somehow happens,” laughs Olha. “If you have a strong spirit inside, then a steel leg is no obstacle!”

In 2014, Olha Benda gave birth to her son Dmytryk, and two years later… she went to war.

“I was often asked, ‘How could you go to war when you have a small son?’ I answered: that’s exactly why I went to war, because I have a small son – and I am here to protect him!” says Olha. “My first husband did not support my desire to defend our homeland, and our paths diverged. Back then, getting a woman into military service was quite a challenge. Finding a military unit that would accept you, going through the difficult basic training course alongside men… And of course, proving to all the ‘well-wishers’ that you weren’t there to find a husband,” she laughs. “But I managed it all.

Even the fact that I was a trained secretary-operator, and they offered to train me as a cook, I accepted it normally. After all, someone had to cook for the guys! So, at 24, I signed a contract with the Armed Forces and joined the 72nd Brigade as a senior cook.”

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“I knew how to cook – I come from a large family, there are seven of us, and I’m the eldest, so cooking for many people wasn’t daunting. I was very motivated and eager to serve. I served equally with everyone else – in the cold or heat, with heavy gear, and never complained. In early October 2016, we arrived at combat positions in Avdiivka, where we stayed.

What was the hardest part for me? Being separated from my son – he was only a year and a half when I went to serve, and he stayed with my parents. It was hard, though I knew he was safe and that I was there to protect him.

Hearing explosions for the first time as we approached the ATO zone – that also gave me chills. But you get used to everything; within a few days, we could understand what and where it was coming from just by the sound.

Physically, the hardest part was that as a cook, I had to get up very early and cook every day as if for a small wedding,” she laughs. “But I managed – cooking for 80 people on my own!

Even before my injury, when I was on leave from Avdiivka, Ukraine, I got myself a tattoo with the phrase in Spanish: never give up. That’s my motto, it’s about me. No matter how hard it gets, I don’t give up! I reset, take a breath, and go back to the fight! And it was the same after my injury…”

never give up

Mastering Surfing, Rollerblading, and Running a Marathon on a Prosthetic

“Shelling of our positions, an explosion just a few inches away… My fellow soldiers pulled me out and rushed me to the hospital under fire.

I woke up in the hospital with my leg already amputated – there were tears, shock. I thought – what to do, how to go on? I was 25 years old, and, can you imagine, I had never seen a person with a prosthetic before – maybe just occasionally in a wheelchair. I had no idea how to live on. But the next day, my then-boyfriend Oleksii, who also served in our brigade, rushed to the hospital to see me. On his way from Avdiivka, he found information about prosthetics on the internet, videos of people using them – he was fully prepared! He showed me, supported me, and reassured me.

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“Lyosha told me, ‘Everything will be fine, you’ll see, they will make a prosthetic, and you will walk again – maybe just a bit slower…’ Though he was a bit wrong there – I run and walk faster on my prosthetic than ever before!” Olha laughs.

“And, you know, thanks to his support, I never feared walking on a prosthetic or felt uncomfortable with it – on the contrary, I tried to recover as quickly as possible. And so it happened: I got injured in May, and by July, I was standing on my prosthetic!”

Soon after, Olha and Oleksii got married…

She told herself, “I will learn to do everything with a prosthetic that I did on my own two legs.” And it turned out that she mastered much more: Olha learned to surf, rollerblade, got her driver’s license, and in 2019, she ran the 10 km Marine Corps Marathon in the USA.

Olha was the only woman among 42,000 participants to run it with a prosthetic!

“Running 10 kilometers on a prosthetic was tough, but I did it!” the woman smiles. “After the marathon, what hurt the most… were my facial muscles! From smiling so much – out of joy that I overcame myself and, despite the difficulties, succeeded! What makes me especially happy is that I finished in an hour and a half, on par with the guys running on their own two legs!

The main thing is not to be afraid to try something new! Those who have gone through severe injuries and faced life and death will understand me,” says Olha. “You rethink your life and start living each day to the fullest, emotionally, productively, actively, and meaningfully. Today, my life with a prosthetic is much richer than it was before.”

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"I've Never Been Ashamed of My Prosthetic"

“I’ve never been ashamed of my prosthetic or tried to hide it. When I first got it, I received many surprised looks. I decided I wouldn’t hide it or cover it up; I would have a regular black prosthetic – so what, let everyone see the ‘iron.’

So people would remember that we are at war and that there are seriously injured people. Nowadays, I no longer notice surprised looks – even though I walk around without hiding my prosthetic. I feel harmonious with it. For me, it’s now the norm.

What would I advise myself six years ago? To have more patience. In the first months, when my prosthetic and I were just getting used to each other, there were moments when I could cry… My leg would swell, it was difficult to put on the prosthetic: it pricked here, hurt there, was uncomfortable. I would get frustrated, throw the prosthetic in one direction and the liner in another… Then my husband would come, calm me down, and I would ask him, ‘Lyosha, bring the leg…’ And I would start all over again. Over time, everything fell into place: now I can put it on in 1–2 minutes. The main thing is – never give up!”

Olha’s older son Dmytro reacted surprisingly calmly to the fact that his mom now had an iron leg. Moreover, recently, Olha was walking with her children, and one of Dmytro’s friends became curious about her leg. Dmytro calmly said, “Don’t you know what this is? It’s a prosthetic! What, you’ve never seen one?”

In 2021, Olha Benda became a mother again!

“Lyosha and I really wanted a child,” Olha shares. “Before getting pregnant, I searched for information, consulted with other women with prosthetics who had given birth, and thought about how it would be – whether I would need to switch to a wheelchair in the later stages. But I went through the entire pregnancy on my prosthetic – without crutches or a wheelchair! It was very easy. Our building didn’t have an elevator, so I walked up and down to the sixth floor every day with my prosthetic…”

From time to time, Olha’s three-year-old son Marichka joins our conversation.

“Mom’s here,” the woman smiles at her son.

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Tomorrow, she’ll be back to her children, work, numerous social projects aimed at supporting veterans and people affected by the war, and football training…

“I dream of joining the Ukrainian national women’s amputee football team,” Olha confesses. “I find it very interesting and enjoyable, and when I succeed and get praised – they say I have a ‘jeweler’s’ sense for goals – it just makes me feel elated!

I don’t consider what I’m doing to be anything extraordinary – but, to be honest, I’m happy when people say they’re inspired by my example. I want to motivate my fellow veterans and popularize adaptive sports among them.

Some people are inspired by me – and I am inspired by our incredible veterans, the guys and girls who don’t give up either, who fight, work, set sports records, and do just amazing things with their prosthetics!”