The Day continues its series of stories about Ukrainian troopers who gave up their lives fighting Russian diversionists. Check out the previous stories at The Day’s website (www.day.kiev.ua) under the heading “They Died for Us.”
The children will only know their dad from a photo
Out of the 10 Volhynian troopers who died near Volnovakha, the fate of Mykhailo Hrytsiuk from Myliatyn was unknown to the family the longest
His wife Lesia kept saying that she would not believe her husband is dead, and she would wait for him till she saw his body. Some declared him dead, others said he was only wounded, and this uncertainty lasted a few endless days. It is hard to imagine the stress the whole family lived under. However, no miracle happened. Mykhailo Hrytsiuk was buried in Myliatyn on the same day that the other fallen near Volnovakha soldiers were buried in many places in Volyn and Rivne oblasts.
Leonid Kondratiuk, a journalist from a local newspaper, says that it was an unprecedented funeral. Eleven priests served the funeral mass, the road from his house to the cemetery was covered in fresh flowers. At the funeral spoke an army colonel, who apologized before the people for not being able to save the boys. There were no speakers from the government, so there was no one to say that Hrytsiuk died defending Ukraine’s territorial integrity, because he himself was Ukrainian.
A native of Topylyshche, Hrytsiuk was an ordinary working man. The eldest of the many children in a big family, he was used to heavy labor. He had his own farm in Myliatyn, where he lived with his wife and her parents. He was never known to refuse help, because a pair of strong hands always comes handy in a village. He worked as a gastarbeiter in Poland. He dreamed of a house for his family, was looking into mortgages for young customers, and Valentyn Ilov, head of the village council, had already found a small house for him. Hrytsiuk was going to extend it when he was enrolled in the army. All this notwithstanding the fact that this father of two little children was practically blind in one eye and suffered from gastric ulcer. His son is only two years old, and his baby daughter was born this April, three days prior to his enrollment. The only thing he got to hear at the recruiting station was that he would not have to serve as a marksman. And he was sent away, all the way to Volnovakha.
The big family are no wiser than the others when it comes to the circumstances of Hrytsiuk’s death. They were never told where he was at the time of the shooting. On June 5 he would turn 30.
His colleagues had bought a bulletproof vest, but he was already dead
The funeral repast for Mykola Bondaruk, 23, took place at the cafe where he had planned to celebrate his wedding
Princess Olga Center. This is where he wanted to have his wedding reception. People say that at Mykola Bondaruk’s funeral his mother sobbed, “Forgive us, son, that we failed to save you, that we didn’t pay off the recruitment officer.” But how could he ignore the call up from the recruitment station, which came right after his birthday, if he had served as a paratrooper? On a photo we see him, a 23-year-old, wearing a blue beret, a sign of his honest service.
The village of Zarichia where the Bondaruks live is actually a suburb of Volodymyr-Volynsky: this is where the city ends and the village begins. Bondaruk finished school No.1 in Volodymyr-Volynsky and enrolled at the local vocational school. Later he worked at the local branch of Volyn Oblast Energy Company Volynoblenerho. He is remembered as an accurate, attentive, and reliable colleague. His foreman called Bondaruk when he was already in the army and asked if help was necessary. His 51st Mechanized Brigade is stationed in Volodymyr-Volynsky, and the entire local community had teamed to help supply the troopers with the necessary equipment. Bondaruk confessed that bulletproof vests were absolutely necessary: “Our battalion is accompanied by very well equipped police officers.” All in “bionic” outfits (“We look like village fools next to them,” said Bondaruk), and well-armed. When the money was raised, the foreman asked again, if anything else was needed. “We are in the fields all the time, there is nowhere to load a cell phone.” When Bondaruk heard, that he would get photovoltaic batteries for his mobile, he was beside himself with joy. Now the boys too could load their phones and call their families.
It took a couple of days to gather enough money for a bulletproof vest and give it to Bondaruk’s parents. However, when the money reached the volunteers who bring supplies to the 51st Brigade, now stationed in the east of Ukraine, Mykola Bondaruk’s name already was in the casualty list.
He was a kind, conscientious boy. On his way home he always called at the cafe where his mother worked: he knew she was waiting for him. His father taught him to repair cars, and the son even outdid his teacher. Bondaruk had a lot of friends, but he was not fond of drinking parties. He played for two soccer teams, his village and his enterprise. He was going to marry in the fall. His mother got the news of her son’s death in Poland, where she was working to earn some money for his wedding. Besides two own children, the Bondaruks have raised two adopted orphans, children of a relative who died young.
Bondaruk called his fiancee, they talked till four in the morning.
His mother’s colleagues asked her to hold the funeral repast at their cafe. However, the family decided otherwise. The mournful dinner was held in Volodymyr-Volynsky, at Princess Olga Center. That is where he had wanted to celebrate his wedding.
The funeral mass was held at the thousand-year-old Holy Assumption Cathedral in the center of the city. The mass was served by Roman Catholic priest Leszek Koszlaga, dean of Sts. Joachim and Anne’s Church, and Archpriest Mykola Hinailo of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate. The tragedy united two different church communities.
He was preparing for a wedding which was slated for June
Vitalii Makhnovets, 33, received a lethal wound to the head when he was keeping watch
He turned 33 on April 7, and on the next day he got a call up to the recruiting station. Like all the other conscripts to the 51st Brigade, he had to wait some time in Volodymyr-Volynsky, then at the army training grounds near Rivne, and then was sent directly to the battle zone. His 50 fellow soldiers had to share just a few bulletproof vests. They did not starve, but the menu was too monotonous. No wonder that in the numerous videos from the battle grounds near Volnovakha we see home-made preserves, brought by the locals. Makhnovets told his family that a part of the locals understood what the troops were doing there, but there were also those who threatened to burn everyone alive.
His mother had premonitions that she was not to see her son alive. On the day he was enrolled she called a friend and said, “My Vitalik will get killed there!” Maria Makhnovets single-handedly raised a son and a daughter. Even as a little boy, Vitalii supported and helped his mother.
He left school as soon as he could, and would not stay to complete the secondary school despite all the pressure from his teachers. He wanted to learn a trade and be a bread-winner for his family. He was preparing for his wedding, which was slated for June, and even bought the rings. On that night when the Volhynian troopers were meanly killed near Volnovakha, he had to stand sentry from 3 to 8 in the morning. The survivals said that snipers cleared the sentries first thing. Makhnovets was seriously wounded, a local resident brought him to hospital in his car. Unfortunately, the wound was too bad.
Makhnovets’ death struck everyone at his school No. 17 in Lutsk. He was not forgotten there. Now the Alley of Heroes with 15 young oak trees commemorates the fallen in the undeclared war. They remained forever young, strong men like oaks who would do a lot of good for Ukraine, but had to pay their lives for it.
They were carried to the accompaniment of shouts “Heroes do not die!”
Dmytro Yovzyk, Pavlo Popov, and Volodymyr Zaradiuk were among the most respected members of their communities
On the same day several fallen men were buried in Lutsk, Volodymyr-Volynsky, Kovel, Novovolynsk, Ivanychi and Manevychi. Volhynia and Ukraine lost their best sons. As you read their biographies, you realize that they were good children for their parents, best students at their schools, reliable partners and colleagues.
Junior sergeant, operator gunlayer Dmytro Yovzyk used to work as a city bus driver in Lutsk. His smile was a sort of hallmark. Andrii Osipov, member of the city council, remembers one of the “politeness checks” for bus driver. A person (allegedly with a right to free passage) boarded the bus and declared he was entitled to a free ride. Of course, not all drivers were happy, since the government is reluctant to reimburse free fares. And Yovzyk was the only one who smiled and said kindly, “Enjoy your free ride.” He was married and dreamed of a son.
Pavlo Popov from Novovolynsk would have turned 23 on June 30. He was only 12 when he lost his father. That is why he was anxious to get a job and provide for his family. He served in the army, which was his childhood dream. After he was demobilized, Popov found a job at a private garage, where he repaired cars. He did not even have a girlfriend. And he would not tell his mom that he was sent to the war.
Volodia Zaradiuk, 23, was an only child. His class master recollected that he would stay after school to help the girls clean the classroom. He left school to start working at a plant, in order to be a self-supporting man, even though his parents were ready to spoil their only son. He continued to study part-time. Zaradiuk did his military duty in a detached mechanized vehicular brigade in Bila Tserkva, earning a lot of commendations from his commanders. After the army he did all kinds of construction jobs, he really had hands of gold. He knew how to pave streets, lay bricks or make roofs. He roofed his grandparents’ house in Kulchyn, the village where he was to be buried. He tiled the bathroom and kitchen at home. His parents say that since the boy was ten, he could plough with a mini-tractor and plant potatoes.
Zaradiuk would call his mother every morning, first from the training grounds near Rivne, where his 51st brigade was stationed, and then from Donetsk oblast. He never complained, because he did not want to let his family worry about him.
“I would have volunteer to defend the border, had I not been conscripted”
Volodia Prokopchuk (Lutsk) always radiated friendliness and joy
At the photo Volodia Prokopchuk looks nothing but a kid. A young, frank boyish face radiates friendliness and joy, for life seemed endless. He was to have married in the fall. He hoped that after completing his mission in Donetsk oblast he and his girlfriend would attend their friends’ wedding. The survivors at Volnovakha say that they were comforted with promises to be demobilized after the election.
Prokopchuk the father also took part in a war in his time. He served in Afghanistan and has decorations for valor in battle. Prokopchuk Sr. had a different idea of what is going on in the east of Ukraine. As a war veteran, he understood that it is an undeclared war. He asked to be conscripted instead of his son, but was refused. Volodia was demobilized only half a year earlier. He enrolled on his own, without trying to get away from the army. He told his friends that serving in the army is a must for a true man of honor. To his parents he said that he was a patriot and would have volunteered to defend the border even if he had not been conscripted.
For some time the conscripts stayed at a military unit in Volodymyr-Volynsky, later at the training grounds near Rivne. Prokopchuk got a leave there, and that was his last reunion with family and friends. At his funeral they told that on the night of the perfidious attack at the Volhynian troopers near Volnovakha he stood sentry, guarding his comrades’ sleep. Around three in the morning his girlfriend called. Prokopchuk said he was sleepy and they would talk the next day, because his partner came to change him and he had to give his gun to him.
Two hours later he received a bullet to the head. Doctors failed to rescue him.
After the Black Thursday at Volnovakha the bodies of Prokopchuk and his three comrades were delivered to Lutsk on Monday evening. Prokopchuk even could not spend the last night before funeral at his own home, according to the local tradition: though his father honestly did his duty before the country, his family got nothing from the state. Prokopchuk’s parents and young brother live in a factory dorm in the outskirts of Lutsk, in a tiny room (12 square meters). So the body was brought before the dorm. There archpriest Mykola Bondaruk and other priests served a funeral mass for the fallen soldier. Then the body was carried in a procession to St. Elias Church nearby. People kept arriving to the church all night long. Father Mykola baptized Volodymyr as a baby. Now he was asked by the parents to serve a funeral mass for him, a warrior and Hero of Ukraine.
When, after a joint requiem, the procession followed the bodies of the fallen from Lutsk’s central square to the cemetery, Volodia Prokopchuk was carried past the pedagogical college, where he studied before the army. All the students, faculty, and headmaster Petro Boichuk went outside to honor one of their best students.
The Volhynian troopers were buried with military honors and a volley salute at a place, designated by the municipal authorities as an Alley of Honor. “You know, every heart missed a beat when the shots broke the silence: these boys were also shot,” said archpriest Bondaruk.
Rest in peace, Heroes. May your memory be eternal.