A Ukrainian veteran receiving care at the US-based Medical Center and Orthotics & Prosthetics

Western press fetishizes Ukrainian amputees as limb loss epidemic grows

With Ukrainian forces reportedly suffering a level of amputations reminiscent of WWI, a New York Times proxy war propagandist is spinning amputees as sex symbols and painting their gruesome injuries as “magical.”

After 18 months of devastating proxy warfare, the scale of the depletion of the Ukrainian military is so extensive that even mainstream sources have been forced to concede the cruel reality. On August 1, The Wall Street Journal reported that “between 20,000 and 50,000 Ukrainians” have “lost one or more limbs since the start of the war.” What’s more, the outlet notes, “the actual figure could be higher” because “it takes time to register patients after they undergo the procedure.”

By comparison, around 67,000 Germans and 41,000 Britons underwent amputations during the entire four-year span of the First World War. The publication quotes the head of a group of former military surgeons who train Ukrainian military medics who maintained that “Western military surgeons haven’t seen injuries on this scale since World War II.”

While the implications of the Journal’s report have largely been studiously ignored by Western media, at least one mainstream journalist has displayed a keen interest in Kiev’s amputees. The New York Times’ columnist and ardent liberal interventionist Nicholas Kristof practically fetishized the mass disfigurement of Ukrainian combat veterans in the name of Washington’s war du jour. 

In a July 8 op-ed titled “They’re Ready to Fight Again, on Artificial Legs,” Kristof insisted that rather than resenting being used as cannon fodder, Ukraine’s newly-disabled veterans “carry their stumps with pride.”

Citing one soldier who expressed hopes of returning to the frontline despite missing three limbs, Kristof framed such “grit and resilience” as a sure sign Kiev is winning the proxy conflict, and will inevitably emerge victorious over Russia.

The gut-wrenching homage to crippled and mangled Ukrainian soldiers even spun amputation as a means of getting laid, quoting the wife of one amputee as saying, “he’s very sexy without a leg.”

Another amputee cited in the op-ed claimed he had never dared ask his hometown crush out on a date before being hospitalized for “mortar injuries that took his leg and mangled his arms.” But after suffering irreparable and life-altering injuries, he and his sweetheart have been together ever since, the disabled soldier claimed.

Kristof quoted the soldier as follows: “It’s magical. Someone can have all his arms and legs and still not be successful in love, but an amputee can win a heart.” 

Hyping Russian losses, covering up Ukraine’s

Throughout the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Western officials and journalists have taken a decidedly asymmetrical approach to reporting combat losses. Since the conflict’s first days, legacy media has dutifully repeated the vast, unverifiable figures that NATO-affiliated analysts insist Moscow suffered on the battlefield. In April 2022, the BBC even went as far as to publish the names and photos of Russian soldiers allegedly killed during the war.

But when reporting on Ukrainian casualties, major news outlets typically refer to the figure as a “closely guarded state secret.” The same senior US intelligence and defense officials who are heavily involved in assisting Kiev on military planning and strategy appear to be genuinely in the dark. On the rare occasion that these sources comment publicly on Kiev’s losses, they invariably caution that they’re merely offering an “estimate.”

From the perspective of Kiev and its foreign backers, the proxy war’s informational component is among its most impactful, and the propaganda utility of concealing losses is clear. Shielding Western audiences from the devastating human cost of the conflict makes the ever-fanciful prospect of Ukrainian victory seem more attainable, and keeps public support for the fight high, arms shipments flowing, and the profits of major weapons manufacturers soaring.

A Ukrainian veteran receiving care at the US-based Medical Center and Orthotics & Prosthetics

Ukrainian amputee centers “must be common as dentists”

As the Wall Street Journal explained in early August, Ukraine’s healthcare system “is now overwhelmed…with many patients waiting more than a year for a new limb.” In Zaporizhzhia alone, 40 to 80 wounded veterans reportedly arrive at hospitals with battlefield traumas each day, including amputees from the frontline 25 miles away.

The outlet quoted a Ukrainian medical director who insisted that facilities dedicated to treating and rehabilitating amputees are now needed “in every town across Ukraine,” and, ideally, “must be as common as dentists.”

Unlike recent US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the ongoing proxy conflict in Ukraine is a high-intensity battle of attrition between two near-peers. Under such circumstances, the primary sources of amputation injuries are essentially the same as they were during the grinding trench battles of World War One — artillery, missiles, and mines.

According to a 2014 policy brief published by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, “the typical ratio of those wounded to those killed in conflict has historically hovered around the 3:1 mark,” though “with recent medical advances, however, the U.S. wounded-to-killed ratio today ranges anywhere from 10:1 to 17:1.”

But as the proxy war’s most vocal defenders are quick to point out, Ukrainian soldiers do not have access to the same medical technology as Americans. 

Beyond the year-long wait for new limbs, a severe shortage of doctors and technicians to tend to amputees has been reported as well. And despite receiving well over $100 billion in aid from Western nations, Kiev still clearly lacks the technology, infrastructure and expert staff required to match Washington’s contemporary casualty record.

Over the course of two decades of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, around 1,650 US veterans underwent amputation, according to the most recent figures available. And though that relatively small number has often been attributed to improvements in medical technology, American troops were also fighting lopsided skirmishes against poorly equipped adversaries operating without the benefit of air cover.

A January 2008 analysis of data published by the US Army Institute of Surgical Research’s Joint Theater Trauma Registry found that as of June 2006, 423 US soldiers who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan suffered one or more “major limb amputations,” a rate of 5.2% among serious injuries overall.

Eerily, the researchers responsible for the study noted that the percentage of amputees among the Vietnam War’s roughly 96,000 seriously injured casualties was also 5.2% —  the same ratio recorded in Afghanistan and Iraq decades later. The paper’s conclusions were stark:

“Amputation rates [in war] have remained at roughly 7% to 8% of major-extremity injuries for the past 50 years. This is despite increasingly rapid evacuation of casualties, dramatic improvements in surgical technique, and far forward deployment of specialist care. However, over the same period, the degree of primary tissue destruction associated with modern weaponry has also increased dramatically. Unfortunately…we believe the rate of amputation following major limb injury is likely to remain unchanged in the current combat environment.”

However, The Wall Street Journal acknowledged that deaths on the Ukrainian side dwarf those suffered by the US military in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere during recent conflicts:

“Out of 100 soldiers wounded within about three miles of the front line, 36% suffered very severe injuries, while between 5% and 10% of all deployed troops were killed, according to Ukrainian military estimates shared with a group of US military surgeons. In comparison, only 1.3% to 2% of U.S. troops deployed in recent conflicts died in action.”

Officially, a total of 22,311 killed and injured were recorded during the US occupation of Afghanistan, and 36,710 in the latter, a total of 59,021. Proportionally, 1,650 amputees represents 2.8% of this figure.

If that volume is transposed to Ukrainian amputees, which reportedly range from 20,000 – 50,000, Kiev’s overall total of killed and injured soldiers since the invasion began could be anywhere between 714,500 and 1.8 million. 

A study this June by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology which found that 78 percent of Ukrainians have had close relatives or friends injured or killed as a result of the conflict suggests the casualty figures are orders of magnitude greater than those publicly admitted by the Ukrainian military.

Mass death in “an investment trap”

Despite the best offers of liberal interventionists like the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, who attempted to reframe war amputees as an indicator of Ukrainian fearlessness, rather than unambiguously grim symbols of an utterly catastrophic situation, Western citizens are increasingly repelled by the deluge of pro-war propaganda. 

On August 4, a CNN poll found that a majority of Americans opposed Congress authorizing more funding for Ukraine, with 51% of respondents saying Washington had “already done enough.” Markedly, there was “slim backing for US military forces to participate in combat operations” – just 17%.

With US elections rapidly approaching, and Biden administration officials openly worrying their Ukraine policy will be a decisive issue on polling day, the conflict’s conclusion could be near. Even Democratic Party loyalists like Aaron David Miller of the Carnegie Endowment (a think tank formerly directed by now-CIA director William Burns) are lamenting that the Ukraine proxy war has become a quagmire.

“It’s sad,” Miller wrote. “But [the] US is in an investment trap in Ukraine with no clear way out. Chances of a military breakthrough or a diplomatic solution are slim to none; and slim may have already left town. We’re in deep and lack the ability to do much more than react to events.”

Since publishing its grim survey of Ukraine’s amputation epidemic, The Wall Street Journal has churned out another depressing read for proxy war boosters. On August 13, the WSJ reported that Kiev’s failure to make headway in its vaunted counteroffensive has forced military planners to look ahead to Spring 2024 for another opportunity that “might” tip the balance.