Minnesota man mulls trip to help Ukrainians in need of limbs – Duluth News Tribune > Minnesota

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

The boy, whose name is Artem, remains in Minneapolis with his mother after receiving his prosthetic arm from the Protez Foundation this fall. The foundation is a non-profit organization founded by Nordquist and Yakov Gradinar, a Ukrainian-born prosthetist who now practices in Minneapolis.

Artem will remain in the Twin Cities for about six months, and while his body adjusts to the new limb, he will gain a permanent wrist and fingers, Nordquist said.

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


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

Their father sensed imminent danger and went to fetch the boys. As they were returning to the house to take shelter, a missile hit. Artem’s father and brother were both killed and the 9-year-old had 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 made three trips to Ukraine to provide 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 agreed to fund the prosthetic work.

“The generosity of this community has made a huge difference in Artem’s life,” Nordquist said. “The money from Bemidji went directly to Artem.

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

“Pastor Mark brought these churches together to raise money,” Nordquist said. “I can’t believe it because the churches are small and rural. But they came up with a significant sum of money.”

Kuleta said his community members are happy to contribute to such a concrete cause.

Five Ukrainian men who lost limbs in the war come to the United States to await surgery by the Protez Foundation, co-founded by Bemidji’s Peter Nordquist.


“When I heard about what Peter is doing, it was an opportunity to support a local initiative that we could have a direct connection with,” Kuleta said. “I would tell our people that for the price of a cup of coffee, you can save a life. Every dollar here is worth four dollars there. It’s stunning.

“That’s exactly what we want to support, for people to help people who can’t help themselves in a situation where they didn’t ask.”

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

During his last trip to Ukraine, Peter came into contact with Yakov Gradinar, the orthopedic technician.

“I was at a meeting with some Ukrainian government officials who wanted me to continue doing humanitarian work,” Nordquist said. “At that meeting, when it became clear that I was just a single volunteer, the Minister of Health and Education asked me if I could help them with prosthetics because of the great need that had been occurring recently.”

Around the same time, a television station in Twin Cities ran a story about Nordquist’s work. The TV crew set up a Zoom interview with him, and Gradinar, whose Minneapolis lab fits prostheses, was also on the phone. Gradinar agreed to meet with Nordquist when he returned to the United States, and at that point the Protez Foundation was formed.

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


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

“He’s able to provide a $45,000 artificial limb for $15,000 because he doesn’t charge for the work, he does it himself,” Nordquist said. “And he’s recruiting volunteers and raising funds. Some of the parts manufacturers also understand the Ukrainian plight and are therefore offering parts at a big discount.”

As he prepares for a quiet Thanksgiving in Bemidji, Nordquist reflects on the past chaotic eight months, which have included 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 battle-torn Ukraine, he finds comfort in knowing that people like young Artem have hope for a better future.