An American volunteer with military experience, known by his call sign as “Max,” will soon undergo his third facial reconstructive surgery for injuries suffered on the frontlines in Ukraine.
The groundbreaking surgical procedure is being paid for by donations from a Milwaukee nonprofit that has sponsored similar procedures for Ukrainian soldiers left with physical disfiguration from battle injuries.
The combat experience of Max is one of many untold stories that have come to symbolize the dedication and courage of foreign volunteers, as Ukraine pushes back against the full-scale invasion by Russia.
Originally from Atlanta where he owns an architecture firm, the U.S. veteran felt called to assist in Ukraine.
Driven by a deep sense of duty and a desire to share his military experience, Max arrived in Ukraine in August 2022 to help train the Ukrainian military. His previous service in the U.S. armed forces made him a valuable asset in teaching strategic knowledge and enhancing the capabilities of raw Ukrainian recruits.
“I have trained tactical police officers, and also United States military personnel in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and combat technics,” said Max. “So I felt my skills would be useful here in Ukraine, especially with what the Russians have done to so many innocent people.”
Within a few months Max would find himself thrust into a path of sacrifice, bravery, and unyielding determination.
Max’s unit came under intense enemy fire during a mission in winter conditions against an occupied position on December 10, 2022. In the midst of the firefight, a team member was tragically killed and another sustained a severe head injury.
“We were on an operation behind enemy lines at night when our unit got hit by a tank,” said Max. “I lost a friend, and at times I was unconscious so I do not remember everything. But I pulled my injured team members out of our vehicle and waited for help to arrive. I didn’t realize that a shell had blown up in my face and how hurt I was.”
Despite being injured himself, Max continued fighting until he was evacuated.
Sent to a hospital in the city of Dnipro, Max received critical medical attention for injuries that shattered his jaw and damaged his eardrums. He underwent two complex operations in Ternopil, where medical professionals worked to mend his disfiguring wounds.
During each stage of recovery, Max returned to his combat unit instead of remaining hospitalized to heal. Knowing that his troops had to fight without him was more painful than his battle wounds. So against medical orders he continued to join combat missions or train troops.
“I am old enough to have lived my life, but so many of Ukraine’s soldiers are still young,” said Max. “These kids are the future of this nation, and somebody has to help. They still need a future. Ukraine needs a strong generation to grow up and rebuild their country. So I am here to do all I can to help.”
Max’s upcoming third surgery will involve the removal of previous implants that have deteriorated and need repair. In their place he will receive patient-specific custom 3D titanium implants.
The July 24 operation will take place in Kyiv, and is being paid for by the Milwaukee-based nonprofit, Friends of Be an Angel. The humanitarian organization has committed to covering the costs of the surgery, ensuring that Max receives the highest standard of care and the best chance for a quick recovery.
“In six months I was supposed to return to the United States, but I remain here at the front with my guys who I fight with. I have no choice but to help defend Ukraine,” added Max.
Series: Return to Ukraine
- Return to Ukraine: A trauma loop of travel from Milwaukee to a country still at war a year later
- From Weddings to War: How Kostiantyn and Vlada Liberov photograph Ukraine's daily horrors
- Being Friends of Angels: The Milwaukee nonprofit saving lives and offering hope in Ukraine
- Mayors of Milwaukee and Irpin expand Sister City cooperation after visit by nonprofit delegation
- Interview with Tom Barrett: U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg reflects on forging ties with Irpin
- Wisconsin Ukrainians host annual fundraising picnic to support homeland on 500th day of war
- Advanced Wireless to donate 840 access points to rebuild Irpin's citywide Wi-Fi network
- Children of Irpin begin planning mural for Mitchell Airport to showcase Sister City friendship
- Irpin is not forgotten: Residents thank Milwaukee Independent for reporting on their "Hero City"
- Milwaukee photojournalist on assignment in Kyiv during July 2 Russian drone strike targeting civilians
- Russian cruise missile attack kills residents far from front lines in Western Ukraine city of Lviv
- Ukraine arrests man accused of directing Russian ballistic missile strike on Kramatorsk pizza parlor
- Milwaukee offers Ukrainian refugee family life-saving treatment for son's genetic condition
- Nikita Pirnach: Irpin student hopes to help his country after finishing education in Milwaukee
- Sick children wait for overseas medical treatments as a new generation is born in Ukraine during war
- Iryna Suslova: The superwoman saving Ukrainian children abducted by Russia
- How a group of Ukrainian mothers, wives, and daughters are distributing vital humanitarian aid
- Freeing Freddie: Educational program aims to reduce PTSD for Ukraine's war-weary children
- The trauma of living: When being killed is the preferred choice to being disfigured from battle
- President Zelenskyy offers gratitude and awards to wounded soldiers while visiting Lviv Hospital
- Former Vice President Mike Pence visits Irpin during unannounced campaign trip to Kyiv
- Military Hospitals provide vital care for Ukrainian soldiers in need of hope and healing
- Combat surgeons pioneer advances in maxillofacial reconstruction of Ukraine's injured heroes
- Milwaukee donors cover cost of reconstructive surgery for American volunteer wounded in battle
- In their own words: Listening to the Voices of Children talk about their experiences from war
- Traumatized by War: Children of Ukraine carry on after losing parents, homes, and innocence
- Widespread Torture: U.N. report documents Russia's systematic executions of Ukrainian civilians
- Wisconsin volunteers sort and pack donated medical supplies for use in Ukraine's hospitals
- Lviv warehouse serves as vital link in medical supply chain from Milwaukee to frontlines
- Aid from Milwaukee is providing internally displaced people in Ukraine with food and clothing
- Iryna Pletnyova: How the city of Uman transformed into a hub for refugees fleeing war
- Bombs in the night: Why children in Uman are still traumatized by Russia's missile attack
- School Bunkers: When a national flag becomes a memorial to dead Ukrainian students
- Hasidic life in Uman: A journey across Ukraine to the Tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
- Tetiana Storozhko: Being a witness to the history of Roma culture in Ukraine
- Remembering Oskar Schindler: A photojournalist’s diary from the streets of Jewish Kraków
Milwaukee Independent has reported on Russia’s brutal full-scale invasion of Ukraine since it began on February 24, 2022. In May of 2022, Milwaukee Independent was the first news organization from Wisconsin to report from Milwaukee’s Sister City of Irpin after its liberation. That work has since been recognized with several awards for journalistic excellence. Between late June and early July of 2023, Milwaukee Independent staff returned to Ukraine for a second assignment to report on war after almost a year. The editorial team was embedded with a Milwaukee-based nonprofit, Friends of Be an Angel, on a humanitarian aid mission across Ukraine. For several weeks, Milwaukee Independent documented the delivery of medical supplies to military and civilian hospitals, and was a witness to historic events of the war as they unfolded.