This photoreport was created by Oleksii Tucha and Denys Krivopyshyn together with the memorial platform Memorial, which tells stories of civilians killed by Russia and dead Ukrainian soldiers, especially for Tsukr. To report data on Ukraine's losses, fill out the following forms: for dead military and civilian victims.
During my childhood, I saw the biggest quantity of flags on Independence Day. They waved on buildings, hung on people's shoulders and twinkled on huge screens during a holiday concert. More blue and yellow colors were seen at graduation ceremonies. The flag was brought in the square, the participants attached colored ribbons to their chests.
— Sasha's graduation was very emotional. He marched in a handsome parade uniform and white gloves.
Oleksandr Kirsanov’s wife, Alina, still keeps the video from the Kharkiv Air Force University graduation ceremony. There is a phrase on it which makes a woman took pride of her husband: «Mr. Colonel, gentlemen, officers, allow me to introduce myself, Lieutenant Kirsanov».
«Let’s grow up»
As time goes on, the situation has been changed — there are no celebrations on Independence Day, no stage with screens. And a lot of those who flew flags on their shoulders now bear plate carriers on them. It seems as if now the bigger quantity of flags are here — at the New Central Baranivskyi cemetery.
From afar there is an explosion in the distance. Today it is clear and windy, the sounds of Russian shelling of the border can be heard in Sumy as well. Anyway, Alina does not seem to turn attention to this. Talking about her husband is more important for her.
— I believe I will tell this story to everybody. Considering I become stronger by telling it. Certainly, it’s to be regretted that all these ended like this, I fancied a happy end. But everybody has their time, and you will not live even a single minute longer than you should.
The war began in 2014 for Oleksandr. He along with Sumy artillerymen passed ATO. Hereafter, he graduated from Kharkiv Air Force University and joined the 79th Air Assault Brigade.
The officer worked on the «Tunguska». Alina steadily retails the principle of its working, although she tells she knows little about her husband's service. This is a Soviet anti-aircraft system that both detects targets and destroys them. Oleksandr died in this vehicle on February 26, 2022. He was 28 years old.
— There is a suspicion that their position was «handed over» — two shells hit vehicle on target. Sasha and his bandmate were waiting for a Russian landing party in Sievierodonetsk to shoot it down. His sworn brother survived because he was standing next to the technical. Sasha was cleaning gun in it.
Each grave looks like a flower garden
— I don’t agree when they say that he was out of luck. He lived a difficult, but dignified life. His sworn brothers called him a good friend and a soldier.
Alina’s eyes shine when she remembers her acquaintance with Sasha.
— I loved everything about him: the hands, legs, everything. It was the first childish love. And he was also tall — 187 cm!
Alina came to the Dnipro mortuary in March alone — her relatives were in the back then occupied Sumy Oblast. She confessed that it is difficult to convey those emotions. More and more pauses have been appeared in the woman's speech.
Strangers will be around at the funeral in Dnipro. A volunteer who will help with the organization, and her military acquaintances. A year later, Oleksandr will be reburied in Sumy.
Alina does not go to this cemetery often and does it alone. She does it when she feels it’s needed , without being bound to any holidays or events. She puts flowers — only natural ones, she does not like artificials, stands silently next to her husband and leaves, as she says, «without hysterics». A psychologist helped Alina to cope with.
— Oleksandr is the first childish love, so he seemed like everything for me. And the psychologist said: «Let's grow up».
Alina gave all Oleksandr’s military belongings to other soldiers. Now she is going back to Mykolaiv, where she lived with her husband for three years. She found a new job as an accountant there. She says she didn’t like math at school, but now she likes to set out numbers «on the shelves».
Alina sees beyond to continue visiting the cemetery in Sumy, although now it’s more valuable for her is shared memories and photos.
— I would like to remember the moments when he was with me, alive and healthy, and his graduation ceremony in Kharkiv.
«Dad, I'm that’s where I need to be»
The flag incessantly touches Yuri’s face. Wherever he stands, he gets his corner. The other cemetery, the Petropavlovsk one, is also windy. Today, the man is at the cemetery with his wife and two sons. One, in a black embroidered shirt, helps his father pack things. Another, in camouflage, stares at him from a granite slab.
— On February 24, I came home, and Andrii was not there, he did not answer the calls either. In the morning, he called and said: «Dad, I’m that’s where I need to be, in the Territorial Defence Forces».
Yurii shows papers with the biography of his son, Andrii Nagaevsky. On the first day of the all-out war, he became a rifleman in the local TDF (Territorial Defence Forces) and took part in several battles. Andryukha, as his brother Serhii calls him, was a «fighter» from childhood.
— He defended a boy who was insulted by everyone in a children’s camp. He asked everybody why he was picked on, he is good, says mother Luidmila.
At the cemetery, the family is almost in body, Yurii’s and Luidmila’s daughter is in Poland
Andrii defended his country and region and died near Nyzy. This village is 20 kilometers from Sumy. Together with his sworn brothers, they met a Russian column — they hit an armored personnel carrier and burned several fuel tanks.
The man was covering over withdrawal action of his group when six Russian bullets hit him. He died on March 5, a month before his fortieth birthday.
— Three days before his death, Andrii came home for a few hours. We sat down with him and talked. I don't remember what. And you know, there was such a parental feeling that I was seeing him for the last time, says dad.
A first during the conversation, the man takes out a wipe. It's different at home: «When you sit alone, you don't cry, you howl».
Yurii is abstracted himself by the computer and conversations with his children and grandchildren. One of them is Andrii’s son. He also wants to become a soldier like dad.
— After his death, Andrii came to me in a dream. We stood for a long, long time hugging each other — saying goodbye. And when I woke up, my soul was calm. We forgave all our sins to each other.
Since then, the husband and wife have been participating in the «Family of Heroes» project, where they meet the parents of other heroes from time to time in various places: galleries, churches, coffee shops. People with similar grief drink tea, talk — this is how they help each other to cope with the loss.
A few people came to Andrii’s funeral. Sumy was surrounded by Russians at that time
Also relatives visit the Holy Resurrection Cathedral. After Andrii’s death, the priest told them that he was alive, just in another world. Brother Serhii says that faith in this calm him down.
— He worked as a constructor, called me to «shabashki» (bywork) and used this to help me when the salary was not paid at work. And now when the question of repair arises, I think: Andryukha would help me.
«I wouldn’t be able to do that»
Vitalii Pasko graduated from the technical school, pedagogical and automobile-road universities. He passed ATO and after that, became interested in cars and moved to work in Poland.
— He had a Daewoo Lanos, but he wanted to earn money for a sports car. He said: «I will come to Sumy and show what a real car is». He understood every detail, and he had books... The shelves in the garage are full and all are divided into topics: here is electronics, there is the undercarriage, and this is the engine, say Nataliya and Viktor, Vitaly’s parents.
They go to their son’s at Baranivskyi cemetery by bus — sometimes every other day, sometimes once a week. They water flowers both on his grave and on neighboring ones. A fresh bouquet was brought today. Apart from it, asters, chrysanthemums and petunias bloom here.
The last time the parents saw their son in 2018, before his moved to Poland. He was supposed to return to Ukraine in 2022, and on the first day of the all-out war, Vitalii called Natalya:
— Mom, I bought combat boots and I’m going to the front.
From the Lviv Military Commissar’s Office, Vitaly joined Airmobile Forces, fought in the south of Ukraine, and later in the east. He called his parents and family every morning and every evening. On June 10, 2022, he wished his wife good morning, but an hour later he did not get in touch. That day he came under fire. Vitaly was 40 years old.
— Someday we would like to come to the place of his death — the village of Bohorodychne near The Holy Mountains Lavra of the Holy Dormition. It would seem that such a reverend place, but war has no sympathy for anyone.
Now the parents share their love with Vitalii's family — he has a daughter and a wife. They stand together and hold onto cat. The cat is holding on to each other. Maksyk, who was bought by a warfighter, now lives with them. Vitalii kept calling and asking:
— How is my cat?
A man and a woman become bright seemingly. It is outstanding how love for this animal warms them. Natalia shows a photo of this «British guy», as she calls him, and adds:
— He is so handsome — six kilograms!
Vitalii loved animals, and they loved him. Though now, a squirrel descends a tree to us. There are several squirrels here — this one is called Katia. Natalia and Viktor feed her peanuts, but she also likes sweets either.
Katia is one of the two squirrels living here
Parents abstracts themselves in different ways: Natalia knits socks, sweaters for the military, she can even create a dress. Viktor is fond of numismatics. His collection already has almost several hundred different coins, but he just doesn't know who to give it all to.
— The granddaughter is not interested, she plays music. Earlier she loved drawing.
Vitalii’s daughter is 14, she loves rock music and dreams of founding her own band. But the memory of her previous passion is also alive — based on the girl's sketch, an angel was drawn, which now decorates the wall at the entrance of the cemetery.
This painting was mutually created by relatives of those heroes who died in the Russian-Ukrainian war. The event was organized within the project «Family of Heroes», mentioned earlier, so that everyone could leave a piece of themselves here in memory of the fallen.
The wall is covered with quotes from fallen soldiers
It is getting dark. At the end of our conversation, Natalia adds that after such an injury you have to «put yourself back on your feet». Because others cannot help here. The woman is proud of her son, and her husband adds:
— Such a person must have willpower; I would not be able to do that.
Viktor, Vitalii’s father, says that 184 soldiers are buried on this alley of the Baranivskyi cemetery. But some are buried next to their families, so the real number of dead heroes is higher.
The area of the Baranivskyi cemetery is 44 hectares, the Petropavlovsk cemetery is 11. Oleksandr works as a gatekeeper on the first one. He is waiting for the car at the gate — in a few minutes there will be a funeral, already the second one today.
— The wife said: «Go to work». That is why I have been working here for more than 5 years. In general, I am a pensioner, I worked as a radio electronics engineer previously.
Along with Oleksandr, the city's cemeteries are served by four keepers, 12 caretakers and 23 cleaners. The man comes here once every four days, but he sees visitors every time. Most people, he says, come in the morning. Someone drinks near the graves, someone even takes a nap here.
— Would you be so kind to tell me, did they bury the boy today? — two women suddenly come closer us.
— Yes, the keeper answers them.
Sasha goes to show the new burial.