Minnesota man reflects on journey to help Ukrainians in need of limbs – Duluth News Tribune

BEMIDJI, Minn. – A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy who survived a deadly Russian missile blast has a new arm thanks to Peter Nordquist’s fortitude and the generosity of the Bemidji man’s friends, neighbors and people he doesn’t even know.

The boy, whose name is Artem, is staying with his mother in Minneapolis after receiving his prosthetic arm from The Protez Foundation this fall. The foundation is a nonprofit founded by Nordquist and Yakov Gradinar, a Ukrainian-born prosthetist now based in Minneapolis.

Artem will stay in the Twin Cities for about six months, and as his body acclimates to the new limb, he’ll get a permanent wrist and fingers, Nordquist said.

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Artem will spend about six months with his mother in Minnesota before returning to Ukraine. After his body gets used to the new limb, he will have a permanent wrist and fingers. All of his medical expenses and living expenses are paid for by donations to the non-profit Protez Foundation.

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Artem played with his 12-year-old brother this summer at their grandmother’s house in Zhytomyr, a town 49,000 southwest of Kiev. Sirens sounded to warn of a missile strike, but the alarms were so common that the boys ignored them.

Sensing imminent danger, their father went to fetch the boys. As they returned to the house to seek shelter, a missile hit. Artem’s father and brother were both killed and the 9-year-old had to have his left arm amputated.

He is one of about two dozen Ukrainian soldiers and civilians who received new limbs from the Protez Foundation.

Nordquist, who has traveled to Ukraine three times to deliver humanitarian aid since the war began in February, only shakes his head as he tells Artem’s story. This week he thanks those who have contributed to funding the prosthetic work.

“The generosity of this community has made a big difference in Artem’s life,” said Nordquist. “Money has gone straight to Artem from Bemidji. In fact, most of Artem’s concern has come from Bemidji.”

That includes money raised by two churches led by Pastor Mark Kuleta of Clearwater Lutheran in Shevlin and Solway Lutheran.

“Pastor Mark gathered those congregations to come up with money,” Nordquist said. “I can’t believe it, because the churches are small and rural. But they came up with a significant amount.”

Kuleta said his parishioners were happy to contribute to such a tangible cause.

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Five Ukrainian men who lost limbs during the war arrive in the United States to await surgery through the Protez Foundation, which was co-founded by Peter Nordquist of Bemidji.

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“When I heard what Peter was doing, it was an opportunity to support a local effort that we could have a direct connection with,” said Kuleta. “I would say to our people that for the price of a cup of coffee you can save a life. Every dollar here is worth $4 there. It’s mind-boggling.

“This is exactly the kind of thing we want to support, for people to help people who can’t help themselves, in a situation they didn’t ask for.”

Because of those donations, along with many others who have supported Nordquist’s efforts, all expenses for Artem’s procedures, travel, and lodging have been paid.

It was during his last trip to Ukraine that Peter came into contact with Yakov Gradinar, the prosthetist.

“I met with some Ukrainian government officials who wanted me to continue doing humanitarian work,” Nordquist said. “In that meeting, when it became clear that I am just an individual volunteer, the Minister of Health and Education asked me if I could help them with prosthetics because of the great need that had arisen recently.”

Around the same time, a Twin Cities television station ran a story about Nordquist’s work. The TV crew arranged a Zoom interview with him, and Gradinar, whose lab in Minneapolis fits prosthetics, was also on the call. Gradinar agreed to meet with Nordquist when he returned to the US, and The Protez Foundation was formed.

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These are four of nearly two dozen Ukrainians who have received new limbs through the Protez Foundation in the Twin Cities.

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Nordquist said Gradinar was only able to do the foundation’s work on weekends and evenings until he recently resigned from the clinic and devoted his full attention to the nonprofit.

“He can provide a $45,000 artificial limb for $15,000 because he doesn’t bill for the work, he does it on his own,” Nordquist said. “And he recruits volunteers and raises money. Some parts manufacturers are also empathetic to the plight of Ukraine, so they provide parts at a deep discount.”

As he prepares for a quiet Thanksgiving in Bemidji, Nordquist reflects on the past eight chaotic months, including three self-funded trips to a war zone, the birth of his first grandchild and a move north.

Despite the suffering and devastation he witnessed in war-torn Ukraine, he finds comfort in knowing that people like young Artem have hope for a brighter future.

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