Real Ukrainians: Olga Rudneva
Olga Rudneva is well-known to those who have participated in social projects, engaged in NGO activities, and paid attention to similar initiatives in Ukraine. She has been working for 18 years in one of the most influential funds, AntiAIDS, and has been involved in numerous social campaigns and assistance programs. This important and impactful work was interrupted by the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. However, the hostile attack couldn't stop Olga. The project she currently leads, Superhumans, began addressing the massive issue of war-related amputations in incredible time frames. Judging by the pace of activity, the "super" label is fitting for the people working on this project.
For her, they are all "superheroes." They began being called that in social media, in the media, and probably in work meetings, thanks to her influence. Wounded soldiers who lost limbs due to combat and civilians who became victims of attacks share more than just the fact that it all happened due to Russian aggression. It's not just that they now have new artificial limbs. The main thing is the shared attitude towards the individuals at the heart of Superhumans, who were previously labeled as "people with disabilities." Now, they are indomitable, resilient heroes - true superhumans.
Key Task - Changing the Societal Environment
For Olga Rudneva, the CEO of the Superhumans Centre, one of the key tasks currently is changing the societal paradigm and, as a result, the social environment in which all residents should feel comfortable: "You don't feel like a person with a disability if you can enter, grab, reach. You don't need to treat a person with a disability as something special. You don't need to pity them; they are strong and resilient, and pity diminishes them. Our patients laugh when they are told, 'Get well, please.' They say, 'First, we are not sick, and second, the leg won't grow back.'"
However, the young and ambitious project takes the issue of prosthetics extremely seriously, involving support from transnational and global corporations, including the Warren Buffett Foundation, Virgin founder Richard Branson, and the Clinton Global Initiative. As of the beginning of autumn 2023, Superhumans has $27,000,000 in its accounts. The amount seems fantastic, but when it comes to expenses, Olga quickly brings it back to reality.
"One million is approximately 50 patients per month. If someone lost more than one limb, the number of prosthetics increases."
According to the Ministry of Health, the number of citizens and military personnel in need of prosthetics reached over 20,000 patients by the end of the summer of 2023. Plans for the next year include opening five centers in regions because transportation time to the aid location is crucial for the wounded. Currently, the main goal is the launch of the Lviv main center.
To achieve this, reconstruction of an old medical building belonging to the diagnostic center in Lviv began in spring. The building remains essentially a framework. Inside, they are constructing a ward fund, a surgical department, and apartments for foreign doctors. Additionally, Superhumans has established an educational center where rehabilitation specialists, prosthetists, and psychologists will be trained to provide the same quality service in various regions of Ukraine or in future Superhumans branches set to open next year, according to the prospective plan.
How did Olga manage to build a powerful organization, make the project known worldwide, attract significant funds, and provide hope to those who lost limbs in such a short time? Undoubtedly, her previous experience in social projects proved to be very relevant. For nearly 18 years, under Olga Rudneva's leadership, the AntiAIDS foundation carried out activities, helping save and normalize the lives of those with HIV and AIDS. The news of the full-scale invasion caught her on Madeira, next to her mother. Her husband, who stayed home in the suburbs of Kyiv, convinced her not to return.
But staying on the sidelines was impossible. The foundation almost immediately began purchasing aid, even managing to find helmets, turnstiles, and first aid kits. "I felt a very strong chaos around, especially in the volunteer direction, but one day I came across Andriy Stavnytser's post about the HelpUkraine Center," she recalls those times. "Then I understood that Help Center is such a large structured project with valuable partners. It resonated with me because I, in turn, am a professional project manager and clearly understood how I could be useful there, so I quickly called a friend, asked everything, and joined the team within 5 minutes."
At the HelpUkraine Centre in Lublin, Poland, Olga worked almost from the beginning of its activities for a busy five months. She built warehouse logistics, found donors, and dispatched cargo batches. "I could have stayed on Madeira and fallen into depression. That was also an option, but I didn't want to let myself down. That's the most important thing."
The Birth of Superhumans
So when Stavnytser shared the idea of creating a fund for the prosthetics of the wounded, Olga immediately responded. There was an understanding of the perspective and the opportunity not only to assess it but also to influence it. That is, to return amputees to a life that war made almost impossible for them. At the end of the summer of 2023, the founders and leaders of Superhumans organized a tour of the first stage of the medical center, which has been operating in Lviv since April, for representatives of Ukrainian and international businesses supporting the fund. However, this wasn't an ordinary tour: it was conducted on wheelchairs to make it more immersive.
"Also, for us from the very beginning, one of the crucial rules was 50/50 – trying to provide equal assistance to both military and civilians," Olga justified Superhumans' position. Valuable prosthetics for future "superhumans" are received either through state funds or as donations from the fund. "The cost of prosthetics is about $15,000," shared Superhumans co-founder Philip Hrushko. "This estimate includes the cost of a prosthetic for one limb, $10,000–12,000, and administrative and doctor's salary costs – $3,000–4,000."
However, Olga found that patients often need $40,000–50,000, and there are cases where the cost of prosthetics reached $90,000. "Rehabilitation is a key story. If there is no rehabilitation, there is a 60% chance that a person will not use the prosthetic," emphasized Olga. In addition to that, there are services, adjustments, or a complete replacement of the device, for example, if a patient's weight changes. So, in essence, clients at Superhumans enter lifelong support.
Today in Ukraine, a prosthesis is a symbol of the courage of those who defended and continue to defend the country. A prosthesis is also a sign that a person has not given up, that they are seeking rehabilitation, a return to a full life, and the continuation of normal activities. And prosthetics, which the Superhumans fund actively incorporates into the agenda of Ukrainian reality, becomes the new norm of a society devastated but not conquered by war. "I tell our guys and girls: you are the people of the future. If we want to live long, we will have to prosthetize certain parts of the body," argues Olga. "It's normal because the body can't endure. And you are prototypes of the future; we are, roughly speaking, testing the future on you. They really 'get' it."