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Seven-year-old gymnast Sasha lost her leg due to a Russian missile attack. Now she is back at competitions

Sasha is one of more than a thousand children who were injured as a result of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine. An enemy rocket hit the house where the girl lived with her parents. With numerous injuries, Sasha was taken to a local hospital, where doctors had to amputate the girl’s leg.

Sasha Pascal, a seven-year-old gymnast from Odesa.
Photo: Victoriіa Yevremova / Instagram

Witnessing the War informational campaign aims to tell the stories of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine through the eyes of Ukrainian children who were forcefully deported, separated from their families, injured, and deprived of their fundamental rights to safety, health, education, and freedom. Deprived of their childhood.

As of May 2024, at least 1345 children in Ukraine were injured due to Russia’s full-scale war. One such story is that of Sasha, shared by the SURGe Project.

The home wasn’t safe anymore

Sasha (short for Oleksandra) started doing gymnastics when she was four. The girl’s mother, Mariia, says that her daughter was so passionate about her hobby that she used to perform gymnastics for her parents at home every night. 

And then, Russia started its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. A Russian missile attack on the Odesa region on May 16, 2022, wounded four people. The most severe injuries were sustained by Sasha, who was five years old at the time.

“I was playing outside, and then it all happened; I don’t even remember,” little Oleksandra says. 

What remains of Sasha’s house after the Russian missile attack.
Photo: State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Odesa region

The girl’s mother lost consciousness from the hit, and when she awoke 15 minutes later, she immediately started looking for her daughter. The entire yard was covered with stones, rebar, and concrete slabs – everything that used to be a house. 

Sasha was found under the rubble. A concrete slab had fallen on the girl’s left leg. She had an open fracture in her arm, with some bones crushed. Additionally, she had four broken ribs and head wounds. Mariia was afraid that the girl would not even be able to get to the hospital in this state.

According to her mother, Sasha was conscious, but due to the shock, she cannot remember any details. Mariia says she would prefer to forget that day herself.

A dream stronger than circumstances

Doctors had to keep Sasha in a medically induced coma for 15 days. However, it was necessary to wake her up, and for that, her leg had to be amputated.

“We realized that there was no other way out; the leg was all blue,” the girl’s mother says in tears.

The girl remembers her father holding her in his arms as she was crying in fear.

What followed were seven months of rehabilitation, two prostheses, a lot of pain, and tears. But nothing could stop Sasha from doing what she loves most – practicing gymnastics. 

Despite the amputation, the girl continued to attend training. During this time, Sasha even won first place at a competition in Chornomorsk, the Odesa region. She dreams of representing Ukraine at international sports competitions one day.

“I had no doubt I would succeed,” the young gymnast says. Her mother calls her “a star that shines brightly.” 

For such commitment, Sasha and other children who showed courage in times of danger were recognized as child heroes by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine.

The aim of the Children-Heroes campaign is to recognise children who have distinguished themselves during the war, are helping the Ukrainian army or have suffered from the aggression of Russian invaders.
Photo: Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine

The constant struggle behind the scenes

“The fact that she is smiling, being happy, and laughing is a protective reaction because it is tough when you cannot go where you want to. You have to take a prosthesis or crouch on one leg, get crutches or a wheelchair,” Mariia says. “We had a good life, and then it just … disappeared.”

Find more stories of Ukrainian children amidst Russia’s full-scale invasion and the up-to-date stats on the matter through the Witnessing the War informational campaign.