Limbs for Liberty comes to Aspen to tell story of the high country nonprofit that brought three Ukrainians to Colorado to receive prosthetics |

Limbs for Liberty comes to Aspen to tell story of the high country nonprofit that brought three Ukrainians to Colorado to receive prosthetics

Kimberly Nicoletti
For The Aspen Times
Igor Voinyi found he enjoys snowmobiling in the Vail Valley.
Courtesy photo

Editor’s note: The presentation at the Aspen Rotary Club is private. Apologies for any suggestion its a public event.

Kelli Rohrig was moved to tears watchin

g footage of Ukrainians fleeing their homes with their cats in March 2022. She just knew she had to fly to the Polish border to help.

Around the same time, Tyler Schmidt, another high-country resident, nurse practitioner, and veteran of the U.S. Army’s Green Berets, couldn’t sit around and “watch innocent people be killed,” he said. So he jumped on a plane.

Neither had a solid plan. But sometimes, heartfelt action, mental grit, and iron-clad persistence have a way of making a difference.

As he spent over a month in Ukraine evacuating refugees, delivering emergency medical care and helping train Ukrainian military units, he saw how many Ukrainians had lost limbs from the bombings.

He and Rohrig, who brought medical and pet shelter supplies to Ukrainian refugees on her initial trip to Ukraine, met through social-media networks. Together they launched Limbs for Liberty. The non-profit partners with physicians and physical therapists to provide prosthetics to Ukrainians who have lost their limbs in war.

Unlike other non-profits, the team does not receive a penny for their efforts. In fact, Rohrig and her husband have spent about $30,000 paying for their multiple trips to Ukraine and related expenses. Fortunately, community members have supported the non-profit with everything from monetary and medical supply donations to venues for fundraising.

In Aspen on Thursday, she and the two Ukrainians who are spending about a month in Colorado receiving treatment will talk about the war, the non-profit’s efforts, and why it’s all relevant to Americans.

Renewed hope

Roman Denysiuk, 31, and Igor Voinyi, 49, have been sitting in rehab centers in Ukraine for multiple months. If not for Limbs for Liberty, they’d be waiting in the rehab center two more months before getting fitted for prosthetics. As they explained it: “You’d wait your turn to go into surgery, and they just do what they can.”

Ukrainian surgeons inserted hardware into Denysiuk’s non-amputated leg, but it hasn’t healed properly, so local medical professionals are working on increasing flexion in his knee. But thanks to Dr. Jeff Retallack, who’s donating his time at Hanger Clinic in Boulder, he now has a new prosthetic leg on his previously amputated side.

While Voinyi waits for his new prosthetic foot to arrive in Colorado, physicians have treated him for black lung, a result of working as a coal miner all his life.

In between appointments, local donors have helped take the men’s minds off their pain by providing free snowmobiling, trips to Fruita and Colorado Springs, and a rafting trip with 20 U.S. veterans through Warriors in Cataract Canyon. A couple of weeks ago, the men visited the Colorado Snowsports Museum to see the 10th Mountain Division displays. On May 3, they met a few veterans, including one who worked on a submarine, at Limbs for Liberty’s $15 Kiev Mule Night fundraiser at Route 6 in Eagle/Vail.

“They were having the time of their lives talking with this guy. It’s been really positive to pair them with American veterans,” Rohrig said. “It’s really about camaraderie — that there are veterans everywhere in the world, and the goal is the same: You defend your country. It’s a common bond they share, and it’s really positive for them to have that opportunity to see that Americans also had problems, and we also had to go to war.”

A snowmobile outing has helped Roman Denysiuk cope while healing from injuries in the war in Ukraine.

The activities, which have turned the men from stoic when they arrived on April 22 to “relaxed and smiling,” Rohrig said, also act as a cultural exchange between Americans and Ukrainians.

“It gives them a taste of American culture, but it also ties Americans to war with an understanding that this is what’s happening, and this is what happens to our soldiers, as well,” she said. “One of our goals is a reality check for people on: This is what happens in war, and you have to support all veterans — our veterans and their veterans.”

Thanks to his new prosthetic leg, Denysiuk looks forward to “going back to regular life after surgery, back to reality,” without having to face a country under siege sitting in a wheelchair, he said through a translator.

Before the war, he was a university student and construction worker who enjoyed riding bikes and walking in the forest. He talked about how he hasn’t been able to do anything for the past nine months, as his amputated leg was healing and how long the waitlist is to receive a prosthetic in Ukraine because so many soldiers and civilians have lost arms and legs due to bombings.

“PT is much better here in the States because they do a lot of activities, so I feel much more support here in the States,” Voinyi said. “In Ukraine, we don’t have so much PT equipment. We don’t have enough resources compared to here in the States.”

The men said they were grateful and didn’t expect the support they’re receiving from Americans.

“We’re very thankful for the hospitality and the people involved to support us,” the translator said, summing up the men’s sentiments. “We feel like regular human beings.”

Andrey Chersak was the first Ukrainian Limbs for Liberty recipient brought to Colorado. He lost both legs while defending his country. Before the war, he worked as a fitness instructor. Now he’s back in Ukraine with his wife and 2-year-old son working on rehabilitation. Though it’s emotionally “tough for him,” Rohrig said, “he’s getting back after it.”

Limbs for Liberty plans to bring two women who have lost limbs to Colorado in July. They have also helped four other Ukrainians receive prosthetics in other states, for a total of seven so far. The non-profit continues to raise money through various small fundraisers and has received a few larger donations from individuals.

The push to continue

Limbs for Liberty saw strong support for Ukrainians when the war began, but now that has waned as the war drags on and people have recovered from the initial shock and outrage, Rohrig said. But Ukrainians haven’t had the luxury of putting the war on the back burner. She wakes up at 4 a.m. every day to read the latest from her contacts in Ukraine. Monday morning, Russians bombed Kiev and Odesa again, targeting ambulances and paramedics, she said.

“They target city centers and civilians and ambulances. The United Nations’ rules for engaging in war — Russia does not follow those rules,” she said.

“You don’t need to donate, but you should be aware of what’s happening,” she said. “We’re all human, and we’re all one big community. That’s the reason why we need to support each other, especially with Ukraine. This could be us. You have people who were just living their lives one day, and then their house is bombed.”

“The most difficult part is you can’t stop the war. But we can all do something,” said Sviatlana Masenzhuk, who left Ukraine 20 years ago and is now one of the main volunteers for Limbs for Liberty. “More than anything, we’re doing this to spread the word and let people know the war is still happening. It’s not OK in the 21st century to kill people. It’s not OK to take people’s lives and people’s territory. By helping Ukrainians, we’re saying we are together in this. We have to stop it now before it spreads even farther.”


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