A Ukrainian teacher blinded by a Russian missile attack is receiving specialist treatment in Britain thanks to the generosity of Mail readers.
Olena Kurylo, 52, became the face of Vladimir Putin’s brutality when photographers sent harrowing images of his bandaged face around the world after Kharkiv was attacked on the first day of the Russian invasion.
The Mail on Sunday sprang into action, helping him flee the war zone for specialist treatment in Poland. Olena underwent three operations, but Polish doctors concluded they were unable to save her sight in her right eye – and could do nothing more for her.
Olena Kurylo, 52, became the face of Vladimir Putin’s brutality when photographers sent harrowing images of his bandaged face around the world
Thanks to Mail Force’s incredible donations, money for Olena’s eye surgery was raised in 24 hours
Now, thanks to Mail Force donations – and £10,000 secured for Olena’s treatment in the UK – world-renowned surgeons told her last week they believe they can restore her vision. Olena, who wept with joy when specialist teacher Tom Williamson broke the news, said: ‘He gave me hope for my eye and my life, and hope is very important.
“I am so touched and extremely grateful to every reader who contributed.”
Olena was injured when a missile exploded outside her house, sending shards of glass from shattered windows into her face. The doctors had told her that she risked losing her right eye without the operation.
After a grueling three-and-a-half-hour operation, Polish doctors restored almost a third of the sight in Olena’s eye, but the results didn’t last. The best result they could offer Olena was 20% vision – and they told her she would need surgery every two to three months for the rest of her life.
Determined to achieve a better outcome, The Mail on Sunday enlisted the help of internationally renowned consultant eye surgeons, Sheraz Daya and Tom Williamson, at the Center for Sight, a world-renowned clinic based in London, Surrey and Sussex.
After studying Olena’s medical notes, they were confident they could save more of her sight, but at an estimated cost of £10,000.
Thanks to Mail Force’s incredible donations, the money was raised within 24 hours. Mail Force launched its Ukraine Appeal days after the invasion of Russia, and it became the fastest-growing newspaper fundraiser in history.
Donations poured in, launched with £500,000 from the Mail’s parent company, DMGT, at the personal request of Lord and Lady Rothermere.
To allow Olena to travel to the UK, lawyers from the British firm Mishcon de Reya worked for free to obtain a visa under the Homes for Ukraine programme. The charity Refugees at Home worked tirelessly to find him a suitable sponsor and foster home. Within days, an MoS reporter flew to Poland, accompanied Olena to London and brought her to her host family in North London.
Olena said, “They are very warm people and the love they showed me made me feel so relaxed and comfortable. It was very therapeutic after fleeing the chaos of war.
Two days after arriving, Olena was examined by Professor Williamson at the Center for Sight.
He told Olena: “I was afraid it would be much worse. Considering the trauma your eye has suffered, the fact that you have some vision in that eye is a good sign. Your eye will never return to normal, but I’m confident we can restore your vision by up to 50% in just one operation.
To allow Olena to travel to the UK, lawyers from the British firm Mishcon de Reya worked for free to obtain a visa under the Homes for Ukraine programme.
Olena thanked him and said, “I’m very grateful for the kindness of the strangers who helped me and made me never give up.”
After three operations, Olena’s eye now needs a post-op rest. In the care of Professor Williamson, she will have another consultation in Britain in October and an operation in January.
Professor Williamson also recommended that Olena stop taking medication and start living life without restrictions again – enjoying swimming and even putting on eye makeup again.
He told the MoS: “I was delighted to see that the eye has greater visual potential than we originally anticipated.”
“There’s still a long way to go and risks along the way, but there’s a good chance of getting a useful long-term view.”