Myanmar: Each morning, Ko Phyo washes himself and his two-year-old son while seated on a chair, a plastic bag covering what remains of a thigh that he says was shattered by a bullet fired by a Myanmar soldier.
Ko Phyo says he was wounded on the front lines of the biggest protests against Myanmar‘s military in decades. Now, he is adjusting to life as an amputee and single parent in a country in chaos since a February 1 coup.
The 24-year-old says he joined the nationwide protest movement in the biggest city Yangon, acting as a guard trying to protect demonstrators from security forces during daily pro-democracy marches and strikes.
“We ran away because we didn’t want to get arrested and beaten,” he said, recalling a day in early March when he was cornered as police and a soldier advanced.
“Then they started shooting, I was shot in the leg, and fell on the ground.”
Security forces have killed more than 800 people since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group. The ruling junta says around 300 have died, most of them “terrorists” and “instigators of violence”.
Ko Phyo said he carried only a shield.
The bullet that hit him severed three arteries. The soldier who fired the shot removed it with a knife, and a local policeman he knew took him to a military hospital, a journey that took more than two hours, he said.
“I started feeling the pain and I couldn’t bear it. I told them to cut off my leg immediately. They cut it on the seventh day.”
Ko Phyo has been learning to become mobile in a wheelchair in his three-room home and uses crutches when outdoors to deal with the uneven roads and paths that run between the green fields of his Yangon township.
He hopes to return to his job handling vehicle licensing with the road transport authority, when stability eventually returns.
Concern about the future of his son drove him to join the anti-junta protests and gave him motivation to recover faster and leave hospital after 12 days, he said.
He sees the loss of his leg as a small sacrifice compared to those of the hundreds killed, including one of his fellow guards, a 15-year-old girl.
“All protesters out there are fighting for the next generations… The military is supposed to protect its own people, but they are killing us instead.”
“We must keep fighting,” Ko Phyo said. “We must win this revolution to bring justice for fallen souls.”
His son is adapting to the new reality too, playing games with his father and bringing him snacks and cushions to make him comfortable on the floor.
“I feel terrible when he asked, ‘Dad, where’s your leg?’,” he said.
“So, I replied ‘a dog’s eaten my leg but it will grow later’. And he still believes it.”