Zakhar Biriukov volunteered to join the Armed Forces of Ukraine in 2015. In 2022, during the full-scale Russian invasion he sustained numerous gunshot wounds while on a combat mission. He lost parts of his arms, one leg below the knee, and an eye. He will undergo surgery to fit a new prosthetic eye. His soft tissue was also affected, his nose was significantly deformed, and he has developed excessive scar tissue.

Save Beauty, a charitable foundation that draws together plastic surgeons to perform reconstructive surgery for military personnel and civilians who sustained injuries in the war, has funded some of Biriukov’s treatment. Surgeon Rostyslav Valikhnovskyi performed the first stage of the facial reconstruction operation, lipofilling, restoring Biriukov’s upper lip at the Valikhnovski Surgery Institute. Serj Khutsanu, a journalist from The Village Ukraine, spoke to Biriukov just hours before his surgery.

This is the second installment covering Save Beauty’s work. The first installment focused on the foundation’s mission and work and the story of Ihor Liubarskyi, a soldier who underwent plastic surgery on his eye.

TRIGGER WARNING: The article contains photographs taken during a surgery. These are graphic images, and they should not be viewed by minors.

Цей текст також можна прочитати українською.



Sustaining injuries


Doesn’t matter if you’re Jackie Chan – artillery, tanks, and aircraft make everyone equal



Zakhar Biriukov

Soldier of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, injured in 2022


Zakhar Biriukov was injured in the summer of 2022. Fate played a cruel joke on him on 17 July: Biriukov was attaching explosive devices to drones to be dropped on Russian positions, when a Russian artillery shell exploded in his vicinity. A tactile sensor in the device that Biriukov was holding in his hands was triggered by the impact.

“We were launching drones. I rigged a drone with explosives, then a shell exploded really close by, and the device in my hands exploded from the impact wave. The drone did too,” Biriukov recalls. “The sensors were super sensitive; I know because I adjusted their sensitivity so that they’d definitely explode on impact.”

Biriukov survived the explosion of 300 grams of plastid. About the explosion, he says: “The RGD [RGD-5 hand grenade] contains 110 grams of TNT, but what we had  was a PVV-7 plastid – it’s four times more explosive than TNT, so the equivalent of about 500 grams of TNT exploded.”



Yes, we shouldn’t ignore history. We have to learn from our mistakes. If you don’t want to do that, better to shoot yourself, instead of getting in other people’s way


Biriukov’s brothers in arms gave him first aid immediately after the explosion: “The guys helped me, they applied tourniquets.” Fifteen minutes later, he was taken to a field emergency room, where emergency doctors and anesthesiologists stabilized his condition. He was then evacuated to a hospital in Zaporizhzhia where, two hours after the explosion occurred, he was already being operated on.

“At the time, I was already subconsciously aware that I had no arms and only one leg,” Biriukov recalls. “I was hallucinating, but I could understand how serious my injuries were.”



The road to recovery was long and difficult. Biriukov was treated in six hospitals across Ukraine and has undergone six leg prosthetics surgeries in Germany: “These things last forever in Germany, mostly because they can’t do more than one surgery in a month – they’re done under general anesthesia. I also had to have the prosthesis fitted. If a prosthesis is fitted before the stump is fully formed, the stump dries up. I’m fine now though.”

Biriukov is yet to undergo the fitting of an eye prosthesis and prostheses for both of his arms; he has to have his anterior dental bridge fixed and has numerous facial reconstruction surgeries ahead of him too. Still, he remains cheerful and optimistic. He finds that his military experience helps him with that: “At war you realize what real loss and real sadness look like. Back [in civilian life] you just can’t get upset about a nasty bowl of porridge, being late, or missing a taxi. These things don’t mean anything. Yes, of course sometimes I get upset or annoyed. You can’t protect yourself from the fuckers around you, pardon my French. But I don’t have excessive expectations for people. I know that people can disappoint you or let you down. But I think that’s okay. Sure, you’re late, or you bring your documents to the wrong office. We’re all people. We all make mistakes. That’s normal.”


If you can turn a situation around, that’s what you should focus on, instead of beating yourself up. If you obsess over what has already happened, you’ll have no future




I find Israel’s example very curious. Jews were persecuted all over the world, they were destroyed for centuries. At some point however they carved this piece of land for themselves and now they will never relinquish it. They have wars every 15-20 years. But we have our own, God-given, beautiful, and fertile land that has everything one can want. How can we not fight for it? There won’t be any fewer victims if we just give up. You either get involved, in one way or another, or we will be destroyed as a nation


The Superhumans Center will help Biriukov get prostheses for both his arms.

On policy that concerns veterans

Biriukov has his own vision of policies around veteran issues in Ukraine and the role veterans play. “Let’s imagine we have perfect veteran policies,” he begins. “I come to your home and you’re in bed, you don’t want to do anything. I tell you: ‘Let’s go, I need you to be present when the apartment is registered in your name, but you need to put together all the documents first.’ Why didn’t I go before? Take me there. Come on, people! Yes, you have to hustle. But that’s how it is everywhere. That’s how the world works. No one will ever do anything for you.”


These days you can’t lose everything. Yes, you might lose things you had before: opportunities or, like me, both arms. But you gain something as well, something you didn’t have before. Yes, loss can be devastating. You can cry in your pillow, that’s okay, that’s not banned. But then you’ve got to move on. That’s the only way


“You can’t give up when you fail at something. Any businessman or successful person will tell you that. It all starts when you’re a kid, when you complete a mission in some video game, then you can’t manage another one, and then you just stop playing it altogether. Then you grow up and you’re not too bothered about going to some office or some center, or doing paperwork, when you can just lie around and spare yourself the negative feelings stirred up by red tape,” Biriukov laughs. “I’m not saying what’s right and what’s wrong. Personally I just don’t get that.”

Biriukov also believes that everything in life has to be gradual. “You can’t command a battalion until you’ve served as a soldier,” he says. “That’s also my attitude to obtaining all the right documents. I can’t go to the military medical board without test results. I know that that’s a basic requirement.”


What if I give you a pillow, and you have to just stand there and hold it? It’s just a pillow, it’s not heavy at all, right? But after a while you’ll feel like it’s filled with lead. It’s the same with everything. People can’t work 24/7 12 months a year. They get tired, they need rest. Everyone gets tired, the military and civilians. It’s okay to be tired of the war. But here’s another thing: you can’t just stay in your bed forever. You can’t just say you’re tired and you don’t want anything to do with the war


Biriukov is not at all worried ahead of the surgery, though he rests a lot of hope on it: “You’d think lipofilling is just a cosmetic surgery procedure, but, for example, it will spare me from constantly having a dry mouth. People don’t usually think about things like that. I’ll also be able to puff my cheeks!” Biriukov says, laughing.



The surgery


First Biriukov has his facial scars resurfaced with a CO2 laser. The laser evaporates water from the skin cells and a crust forms on the surface; it is then exfoliated within the next 5-10 days, and new skin forms.

It takes four weeks for epidermis to restore, and the procedure is repeated again. Each session makes scars less and less visible.

Biriukov’s upper lip is thin and atrophied.


The first stage of restoring the upper lip is lipofilling to restore the lip’s volume.


Two stitches were made where adipose tissue (taken from the abdomen) was introduced.

Yevheniia Izmailova

Save Beauty founder


Our experience suggests that Save Beauty is about more than just restoring people’s appearance; it’s also about helping people restore their mental health. When the people we work with see the outcomes of their surgeries, they gain self-confidence and a sense of self-worth. Working through their trauma helps them find new meaning in life and motivation to achieve their goals – psychologists call this post-traumatic growth. All this is part of our mission. We also know that appearance affects the process of social (re)integration; our goal is to help soldiers who were injured return to normal life and feel the full support of the people around them.


Three weeks after the surgery, The Village Ukraine got in touch with Biriukov again to find out about how he was doing and how his recovery was going. He told us that he was feeling great and said his lip had almost healed completely: “I feel good. Everything’s great. Of course it was scary to look in the mirror for the first three days,” he laughs. “Stitches were removed after three weeks and I was free to get on with my life. I’ll be able to see some real visual changes within another three weeks.”

Biriukov’s next facial reconstructive surgery is planned for late February 2024, after he gets his arm prostheses fitted at the Superhumans Center in Lviv.