"I am an example of the consequences of war". The story of veteran Oleksandr 'Teren' Budko

"I am an example of the consequences of war". The story of veteran Oleksandr 'Teren' Budko

With the start of the full-scale invasion, Oleksandr Budko, with the call sign 'Teren', volunteered for the Carpathian Sich 49th Infantry Battalion. There he became a platoon commander of the 49th Separate Rifle Battalion. In August 2022, during combat operations in the Kharkiv region, Oleksandr was wounded and lost two lower limbs. 

Before the full-scale invasion began, he worked as a barista at a coffeehouse in Kyiv. He is a food processing engineer by trade, originally from Rivne. 

Today he is developing his own accessibility project, has written a book and starred in a film produced by Sarah Jessica Parker. Read more about the veteran's story and his life in the article. 

Injury and rehabilitation

On August 24, 2022, Oleksandr was wounded in the village of Dmytrivka, Izium direction, Kharkiv region, bordering Russia in the east of Ukraine.

"We were advancing towards the enemy, but at some point, we could no longer reach the Russian positions. So we took a break. While waiting for the next coordinates, we decided to have a snack and rest a little. I lay down in a trench, and somehow, while I was sleeping, our positions were shelled. Then I felt a terrible pain in my legs. I screamed in pain and called for my fellow combatants who had survived. I received first aid and was taken by an evacuation vehicle to a stabilisation centre," recalls Oleksandr 'Teren'.   

The man underwent rehabilitation in the United States and began using prosthetic limbs. Even before the start of full rehabilitation, he practised physical activity in the hospital. After arriving at the rehabilitation centre, Oleksandr adopted a more comprehensive approach to recovery. 

In his opinion, Ukraine has problems with accessibility not only in rehabilitation centres but everywhere. There is a lack of professionalism and awareness, as well as a lack of communication about implementing inclusive spaces. 

A project about inclusivity Leg Dump

On February 13, 2024, Ukraine launched a new YouTube project called Leg Dump, or All Inclusive. In it, Oleksandr 'Teren' Budko and Ukrainian celebrities travel around Ukraine, exploring cities for accessibility. Sitting in wheelchairs, Oleksandr and star guests visit different tourist routes, sights, museums and restaurants. The show has a comic tone but highlights the issue of inclusivity in Ukraine.

The project's main mission is to highlight the problem of barriers in Ukraine and promote accessible infrastructure among the public, who didn’t realise why it was necessary.

"I am happy that this mission is working. The channel has already had about three million views, hundreds of responses from people and thousands of comments that they have changed their minds about the importance of accessibility. They saw something they had never seen before. Viewers started to understand the importance of accessibility and how to get it right, how to communicate with people with disabilities,"

says the veteran. 

He says that 10% of those who watched the show started to get involved in creating an accessible space. 

Especially after the episodes, the city authorities try to contact the team for further cooperation. There are cases where the local authorities did not communicate with Oleksandr but started to change the city. However, there are no global improvements yet. 

The project can be viewed on YouTube with automatic subtitles in any language. 

Participation in the film by producer Sarah Jessica Parker

Oleksandr Budko became one of the main characters in the documentary Front Row, produced by Sarah Jessica Parker.  The film is about a group of Ukrainian ballet dancers who were evacuated after the full-scale war. The film was shot in the USA, Ukraine and the Netherlands. 

Firstly, he met the company when they invited him to the show. At the time, they were making a documentary about Ukrainian ballet in exile through the prism of the war.  

"The crew, who were already shooting the movie, became interested in me as a character and included me in their project. They changed its direction telling about me and my encounter with ballet and war. I offered to create a ballet performance in which I wanted to dance. There was little time, a group of dancers were performing all the time, and we didn't have long rehearsals. We decided to create a short choreography. This inspired the directors and producers of the film. We filmed a performance in Los Angeles, which became the climax of the film," says the veteran. 

The film was shown at the BAFTA Film Festival at the London Theatre. The producers are currently trying to promote it at other festivals and are negotiating with streaming platforms. However, it is not clear when the film will be available. 

"It was not a full acting experience because the film is a documentary. But I think it's more of a fiction film than a documentary. Everything is shot in a very artistic way," says Oleksandr. 

The Story of a Stubborn Man and its English translation

Oleksandr Budko has written an autobiographical book, The Story of a Stubborn Man. He tells of his attempts to join the Ukrainian Armed Forces and his combat journey until he was wounded during a counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region.

"The book is about military life on the front line. That is, without hyperbole, without exaggeration, the way people actually live. It's about friendship, quarrels, food, weekends and weekdays. Given the difficult way I got to the front and the stubbornness I had and still have, it helped me get there. This is my little dream come true,"

says the author of the book.

In the winter of 2024, the veteran presented the book abroad, including Prague, Kraków, Berlin and Paris. In the future, Oleksandr plans to organise more presentations of the book in European countries. 

Teren adds that negotiations are already underway for an English and Spanish translation of the book. 

"There will be more tours because they are necessary. We have Ukrainians who left before the war started or those who left during the war. They need to be with their own people. They get to know each other and feel useful. That helps us too, so we raise money for the military. It is a reminder that the war is not over and I am an example of the consequences of war. People can save others from serious injuries with their donations," says Oleksandr. 

Foreigners also attended the events and asked about the country's situation. Several French people were in Paris, and we hired an interpreter for them. 

"They are interested in the Ukrainian issue, which was a great surprise and pleasure for me.  There were also Spaniards in Spain. There was a university professor and several people from the Association of People with Disabilities. It was important for me that people showed interest in our life," says Teren. 

Motivation and participation in media projects

Today, Oleksandr 'Teren' is involved in many media projects. In particular, he will appear in the new show The Bachelor. He also continues to discuss the importance of creating an inclusive space.

The veteran says his main motivation comes from the initiatives he is involved in. 

"When I do something, I see how it comes to life, how it changes public attitudes. New accessible spaces and initiatives appear and I realise that it's not all in vain. It has a positive impact, and the more I do, the more I feel there is more to be done. I want to do something because I feel involved and inspired by the changes,"

says Oleksandr Budko, call sign 'Teren'.