20 years of Ukrainian woman’s relentless battle to save her crippled husband

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One afternoon in early June, when Hanoi was in scorching heat, she was in an intensive care unit at a hospital with her husband.

She leaned forward and, with a great effort, lifted him up and put him in his wheelchair. After lying on his back for several days, he began to have bedsores on his back and had to be transferred to another hospital for treatment before the doctors could perform the operation.

“Let’s go to another hospital, dad,” she said.

Svetlana Nguyen and her paralyzed husband Nguyen Van Thang in a hospital in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of Suzana Nguyen.

Quickly wiping the sweat from her forehead, the blonde woman patted the hand of Nguyen Van Thang, her husband. Although he couldn’t speak, he looked at her and made slight movements with his mouth. It made her very happy because it meant he was recovering.

It has been almost 20 years since Thang fell ill and was unable to take care of himself. Svetlana seems to have gotten used to the fact that they spend more time in the hospital than at home.

The 55-year-old said: “There are times when life stops and I think I can’t go on anymore. But then I look at my husband and my children and I have the motivation to keep going. “

Their love began in 1988 when they first met in the canteen of the National Customs Service office in Kiev, Ukraine, when Thang came there to use the service.

They married two years later and he decided to stay in Ukraine instead of returning home as he had planned before.

In 2000, he told his wife that he and their nine-year-old daughter would move to Vietnam to find business opportunities while she and their two sons remained in Vietnam. The family was due to reunite when he succeeded.

But a year later, Svetlana was informed that her husband had had a stroke and was paralyzed.

“I cried like I had never cried before. I felt like it was a dead end. But then I told myself to make an effort and maybe a miracle will happen.

“No matter how hard it is, we have to make an effort. We are together when we are healthy, so we have to be side by side when we are sick too.”

She bought a plane ticket and flew to Thang’s hometown.

The marriage of the couples took place in 1990 in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.  Photo courtesy of Svetlana Nguyen.

The couple’s wedding took place in 1990 in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Svetlana Nguyen.

Every day, she gets up early to cook and then massages her limbs to help relieve the stiffness of lying down in one place for a long time.

Moving him around in his wheelchair takes full force and several minutes each time, but she says if she doesn’t, he will have bedsores.

There were days when her husband and children were sick at the same time, and she was too tired to get up and lie in bed with tears streaming down her face. Then she would get ready, get up and continue working because she knew the whole family was counting on her.

In the past 20 years, she has only returned home once to sell all of their possessions, furniture, cars and even her wedding ring to raise money for her treatment.

Without knowing Vietnamese, with a sick husband and three young children to raise, Svetlana often felt that God was too unfair to her. Some friends even advised her to go home to free herself from it all, but she silently turned away.

“As husband and wife, we live together for love. If I go, who will take care of him?”

Thanks to his devoted care, Thang’s health gradually improved and after two years he was able to walk and use certain objects.

Then their savings started to dry up, so Svetlana decided to find a job. Thang’s family offered her an apartment on Ngoc Khanh Street in Hanoi, and she used half of it to open a cafe in 2004.

She bought an old refrigerator, while friends donated sugar and coffee. Since she had no money to hire staff, her two older children, then in college, spent half the day helping their mother sell coffee.

From time to time, she would invite compatriots and people who had studied in the Soviet Union to her shop and taste her food.

They praised her regularly, and some suggested that she should sell more dishes from her native country, and a food menu gradually took shape.

As the place expands, the quality of life improves for the family of five.

Now the two older children run a Russian restaurant in Saigon and the younger son is studying in Canada.

“In order to pay her husband’s hospital bills, she works non-stop. Last Easter there were days when Svetlana would work until 2 a.m. to complete customer orders. She then went to the hospital the next morning without showing the slightest sign of fatigue. ” Natalia, a Russian friend of the couple, said, adding that she admired Svetlana for never giving up.

Svetlana Nguyen bakes loaves of traditional Russian black bread, a key ingredient in her restaurant dishes.  Photo by VnExpress / Hai Hien.

Svetlana Nguyen makes loaves of traditional Russian black bread, a key ingredient in the restaurant’s dishes. Photo by VnExpress / Hai Hien.

Although their life has improved, she still faces many difficulties.

Over the past 20 years, Thang has been hospitalized dozens of times, several times in life-threatening conditions.

Sadly, in February of this year, he suffered from heart failure and a brain hematoma and was about to undergo surgery. He then had a stroke directly in the hospital and is paralyzed again.

But with the resurgence of Covid-19 at the end of April, family members are not allowed to enter the hospital to take care of him.

“I always believed he would be healed someday,” she said.

As the children are away, she has to take care of everything when her husband is hospitalized. Every day, she wakes up at 5 a.m., visits her husband and then returns to the restaurant to prepare food for the customers.

She returns to the hospital when she is free, then returns to the store to work until midnight.

For over a month, Hanoi banned indoor dining in restaurants because of Covid, so she barely made any money. To pay the hospital bills, she asked her children for help and borrowed money from those around her. But the words “give up” never crossed his mind.

She never gave up hope that one day her husband will be better and the two will return to Kiev, where they met many years ago and fell in love.


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