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A physician from Unbroken centre puts tape on Andrii's Zhilin amputated leg. Andrii, 26, stepped on landmine in August amid fighting in the Bakhmut area, and participated in the battle for the next 13 hours until he was evacuated from the battlefield.Anton Skyba/The Globe and Mail

Amid the tragedies of the war in Ukraine, there are small victories, small incidents of hope that inspire and rally the defenders. One of those moments came on Sunday in Kyiv, when war amputees fitted with prosthetic legs took part in a charity race that made crowds cheer with pride.

The race, organized by the Nova Post express delivery company and billed as the “World’s Longest Marathon” – a reference to the 3,359 days that have passed since the war started with Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014 – included 15 amputees who were given new limbs in the Unbroken National Rehabilitation Center at St. Panteleimon hospital in Lviv.

One of them, Serhii Yevtushenko, walked and ran his one-kilometre event with a prosthesis made from a Canadian-donated 3D printer that was recently installed at Unbroken. “I had no problem with my new Canadian leg,” he told The Globe and Mail after the race. “Morally, this event felt good and I would like to thank Canada.”

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The “World’s Longest Marathon” -- a reference to the 3,359 days that have passed since the war started with Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014 – included 15 amputees who were given new limbs at the Unbroken National Rehabilitation Center.

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Kostiantyn Nykypanchuk, left, talks with Serhii Yevtushenko, who was the first soldier to be fitted with 3D-printed prosthesis from the Canadian-supplied machine.Anton Skyba/The Globe and Mail

A week earlier, he was the first Ukrainian soldier to receive a 3D-printed limb from the Unbroken centre. There will be others – perhaps many others, as the machine’s operators gain experience and the war grinds on.

Mr. Yevtushenko, 35, a construction worker before the war, was a member of the Ukrainian 3rd Assault Brigade, who are revered for their brave fighting in some of the war’s ugliest battles, among them the liberation of Kherson, in the southern part of the country, and the battle of Bakhmut, in the East. The brigade took horrendous casualties and Mr. Yevtushenko was one of them.

On Jan. 13, near Bakhmut, one of his comrades stepped on a mine. As he rushed to deliver first aid, he himself stepped on a mine, which shredded his left leg and inflicted more injuries on his downed friend. Miraculously, both survived the two explosions.

Mr. Yevtushenko eventually found his way to the Unbroken rehab centre, which, situated in relatively peaceful Western Ukraine, has emerged as one of the country’s main medical and humanitarian hubs.

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Top, Serhii Romanovskiy, 45, a patient at the Unbroken National Rehabilitation Center. He and his fellow patients are some of the 5,000 Ukrainians who have lost limbs since the full-scale invasion started 20 months ago.Anton Skyba/The Globe and Mail

Since February, the Unbroken facilities have helped thousands of soldiers and civilians regain mobility. The site specializes in emergency medical care, reconstructive surgery, orthopedics, psychological rehabilitation and prostheses, which are both fitted and manufactured there. It has even fitted patients with bionic hands.

Unbroken says that 5,000 Ukrainians, many of them children, have lost limbs since the full-scale invasion started 20 months ago. The centre is funded by the Unbroken Charitable Foundation, whose many sponsors include the City of Lviv, Nestlé, Unilever, the Ukrainian Red Cross and the Direct Relief charity of the United States.

The Unbroken centre is building capabilities as funds and expertise roll in, and as the war drags on. The sheer horrific number of mines in Ukraine – the Ministry of Defence has said that its combat soldiers sometimes encounter five mines per square metre – means that Unbroken will almost certainly have to fit prostheses for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of soldiers and civilians in the next year or two.

Mr. Yevtushenko said that, in his assault brigade, at least 10 per cent of the casualties came from Russian anti-personnel mines (most of the rest came from artillery).

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Kostiantyn Nykypanchuk, 26, sculptor, stands near a 3D printer donated by Canadians at the Unbroken National Rehabilitation Center in the basement of St. Panteleimon hospital in Lviv, Ukraine on Oct. 20.Anton Skyba/The Globe and Mail

One crucial addition to the Unbroken site was the 3D printer, which was purchased with donations from Canada’s Temerty Foundation, led by Jim Temerty, the Ukrainian-Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist who was chairman of offshore wind company Northland Power until 2019.

Peter Derkach, a Canadian-Ukrainian family doctor from Toronto who was involved in the installation of the printer and the training sessions for it, said that two of the Chinese-made printers were sent in August to Unbroken but one of them arrived damaged.

The second machine should be in action soon. Both operate on software supplied by Toronto’s Nia Technologies, a charity led by Toronto financier Jerry Evans that fits prostheses to disabled children.

Two young Ukrainian artists – both sculptors – were recruited to run the printers. Their test runs saw them make a miniature copy of Michelangelo’s David in a white thermoplastic known as polypropylene.

“We did a lot of tests and are happy with the results,” said Kostiantyn Nykypanchuk, 26, one of the machine-operator sculptors. “It’s a very challenging job.”

The printer can fashion a precision prosthesis in as little as eight hours. The old way was so labour-intensive that the same process took three days. Dr. Derkach said the two 3D printers at Unbroken will be followed by others.

“We are just beginning, really,” he said. “We want to build on their capabilities as the war will require a great increase in prostheses production.”

Two of the three soldiers interviewed by The Globe at the Unbroken site said they will use their newfound mobility to go back to the war. All three of them seemed thrilled that they could finally walk again, almost as well as they could before their gruesome injuries.

“I will go back into the army,” said Mr. Yevtushenko. “I am capable of killing Russians again, and if I die, I would prefer to die as a free man in the battlefield.”

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