Ukrainian boy badly burned in Russian attack returns to school, music and dance

By Andriy Perun

LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – Eight-year-old Roman Oleksiv is back at school in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, another step in an unlikely recovery from life-threatening burns and shrapnel to the head that he sustained in a Russian missile attack in July last year.

Roman was waiting to see a doctor with his mother when a cruise missile struck the central town of Vinnytsia, in one of the deadliest single attacks since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began early in 2022.

She was among 28 people killed, while Roman suffered shrapnel wounds, a broken arm and burns over 45% of his body. After medics in Lviv stabilised him, he was sent to a specialist burns unit in Dresden, Germany, where he spent nearly a year undergoing more than 30 rounds of surgery.

He is now back in Lviv, and, while he must return to Dresden regularly for treatment, Roman has begun to settle back into daily life with the help of his father, Yaroslav.

“We did not know whether he would be able to walk, move his hand or his fingers,” Yaroslav told Reuters at the school, his hand around Roman’s shoulder. He explained that his son was not in a state to speak to the media yet.

“But thanks to their (the medics’) work, to Roman’s work, his superhuman efforts … all this opened the door for us to return to dancing, to playing musical instruments.”

Roman is instantly recognisable among the children in the school’s brightly coloured corridors. He wears blue compressive coverings over his head, face and hands for his burns.

At a large hall nearby, young contestants wearing bow ties and dresses paired up for the ballroom dance competition.

Roman and his partner performed the tango and Charleston, and were warmly cheered as they stepped forward to receive their certificates and medals. Later, Roman performed a solo on the bayan, a version of the accordion.

“We went back to practising dancing and the bayan. He went back to school, continues his education,” said Yaroslav. “He is in third grade now. We are doing our best to get better.”

He said Roman faced years more treatment to fully recover, including surgery, hair implants and ear corrections.

“Step by step we will deal with this and everything will be fine.”

He preferred not to dwell too much on the past.

“He is a fantastic boy,” said Yaroslav. “I think the question is not what he has gone through but how will he go on … I hope that he will continue with the same strength as now to grow, to develop himself.”

(Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Jon Boyle)