OPYTNE, Ukraine—One afternoon in January 2015, 78-year-old Maria Gorpynych stood on her porch and anxiously watched her son Victor run the short distance to the home of a neighboring family. At the time, Opytne, located in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, was caught in the middle of heavy fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian soldiers. Victor wanted to help the neighbors wrap a gas pipe in rubber to protect it from shelling.
Less than five minutes after he left, Gorpynych saw one of the neighbors running back toward her house. He came bearing bad news: A mine had detonated nearby, and a shard had struck Victor in the head.
At a hospital in Dnipro, a city in central Ukraine some 140 miles from Opytne, doctors managed to remove the shrapnel. Victor was released but told he would need to return for further treatment. He was hospitalized twice more over the course of a few months, but there were complications with his treatment and recovery. The 48-year-old suffered a stroke and died that December.