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Soldiers honored as Devils host Ukrainian Heritage Day

by Gordy Stillman / New Jersey Devils
Sgt Vadym Svyrydenko and Pvt Vadym Maznichenko, of the Ukrainian Army. The two soldiers are in the United States receiving rehabilitation and training in Bethesda Maryland as they learn to use their new prosthetic limbs following service in the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Photo by Patrick Dodson.

Soldiers Sgt. Vadym Svyrydenko and Pvt. Vadym Maznichenko have traveled halfway around the world for medical attention. After losing limbs in the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine, the servicemen sought treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda Maryland, to help better the lives they laid on the line for their country.

On February 14, as the New Jersey Devils hosted the Los Angeles Kings, the team honored the two Ukrainian Army veterans as the Heroes of the Game, on Ukrainian Heritage Day at Prudential Center. The soldiers came to the United States last year, and will remain as they continue rehabilitation at Walter Reed’s state of the art facility. As they were recognized with a standing ovation the team presented the two soldiers with customized jerseys, which will serve as permanent mementos of their time here, along with the memories of the game.

Speaking through an interpreter, Svyrydenko said he originally served in the army in the 1990s, but after ending his service, was drafted to serve again on August 4, 2014, amidst the fighting against separatists.

Before going back into the military, Svyrydenko said he worked for a newspaper, and spent time with his family. A native of Kiev, he also enjoys mathematics, and when he went to school, earned a degree in economics. “I liked economics a lot, studying it as well, so I chose that.”

Both Svyrydenko and Maznichenko came to the United States to receive prosthetic limbs as they recover from various injuries during their service. After being rescued by a convoy during the Battle of Debaltseve, Svyrydenko’s truck hit a landmine. He had to wait for three days with his group before further help could arrive, surviving sub-freezing temperatures and suffering frostbite.

Maznichenko fought in the battle of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region, where he was wounded by artillery fire in September 2014, losing part of his right leg and his left hand. Before joining the army in May of the same year, Maznichenko worked as a welder at a construction site in Brovary, near Kiev, after growing up in the southern portion of Ukraine.

Together, Svyrydenko and Maznichenko participate in at least two hours of rehabilitation at Walter Reed every day, with additional treatment lasting up to six hours. Before being recognized at the game, Maznichenko demonstrated some of the abilities of his prosthetic hand. Explaining how it works in his native language, with an interpreter translating, he uses the artificial fingers and wrist by engaging muscles further up his arm, which then trigger movement in the prosthesis.

Opera Baritone Oleg Chmyr performs the Star Spangled Banner before the New Jersey Devils host the Los Angeles Kings at Prudential Center on February 14. Performing on Ukrainian Heritage Day, Chmyr was joined by members of Ukrainian organizations, presenting the flags. Photo by Patrick Dodson

While the time can be long, Svyrydenko expressed gratitude for the treatment, saying, “America gave me the opportunity to get a new kind of prosthetic. I feel much more human, and like I can do whatever I want, than before.”

Svyrydenko and Maznichenko may not speak English, but they both speak hockey. Svyrydenko explained he was a big fan of a Kiev-based hockey team, HC Sokil, which competes in the Ukrainian Hockey Championship League. Attending his first NHL game, Svyrydenko said he was a fan. “I like the New Jersey Devils and I like the experience a lot.”

Beyond Svyrydenko and Maznichenko’s celebration, the team recognized the area’s large Ukrainian community with concourse performances by Ukrainian dance groups from throughout New Jersey, and invited New Jersey State Opera lead soloist Oleg Chmyr to perform the national anthem, as representatives of Ukrainian youth groups presented the flags before the game.

A local Ukrainian dance group performs on the Prudential Center concourse. Seven different groups entertained fans before the game and during intermissions. Photo by Patrick Dodson
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