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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Two Sknyliv boys seven years later

8 September, 2009 - 00:00
KHMIL BROTHERS (AUGUST 2009) / Photo by Yevhen KRAVS OSTAP KHMIL (SKNYLIV, JULY 27, 2002) Photo by the author

Seven years have passed since the Sknyliv tragedy, which is considered the world’s worst airshow disaster in terms of the number of casualties. Let us recall Sknyliv’s awful “harvest”: on July 27, 2002, 77 people were killed (including 28 children) and nearly 250 were injured after a Su-27 plane crashed into the crowd of Lvivites and city’s guests on the Sknyliv airfield to watch the show.

Among the terrifying photos that went across the world after the catastrophe was a picture of the Khmil brothers — the tearful and sorrowful three-year-old Ostap and 10-year-old Oleh. The deathly show killed the boys’ mother, who had managed to cover the younger son with her body. Luckily, Oleh was thrown away from his mother by the blast wave. Their grandmother received injuries incompatible with life and died in hospital several days later. The head of the family, Yurii Khmil, was staying with his mother in a village at the time, and learned about the disaster from a TV news program. He never crossed his mind that Halyna, their two sons, and her mother would go to the show.

The Day dispatched one of its journalists to find the Khmil brothers. Let me say straight away that the boys’ father refused to give any commentaries. He is right in doing so — you always want to speak about good things rather than reopen old wounds. Yurii’s mother, Olha Ivanivna, offered to speak with us.

According to her, 40-year-old Yurii married another woman, a worthy one. Everything is fine in their family. Oleh and Ostap call Yurii’s new wife mother.

Oleh is already an adult. He has just enrolled in Lviv Polytechnic University. He will study management there but will have to pay tuition, Olha complained. She added, “Only three victims of the Sknyliv tragedy were entering higher educational establishments this year. Couldn’t they be given at least some preferences so that they could study free of charge?”

Ostap has advanced to the fifth grade. He is studying in a school with special emphasis on English. He has several certificates of academic merit. For three years in succession he has taken part in the Kenhuru Math Competition and has won every time. His grandmother said, “He is a good student, because he receives help at home. He also has a very good teacher.”

For two years after the tragedy Olha twice a week took the boy to a neuropathologist, who asked him to draw. “I could not understand why the treatment started from drawing,” Olha said. She recalled that at the beginning, when the doctor gave Ostap felt-tip pens of all colors, he took only black ones. “The result of regular drawing was that black color disappeared from his drawings,” the grandmother sighed with relief. “In this way, using games and drawing, the neuropathologist led him out from that nervous state.”

However, both boys are registered at the ophthalmologist’s, and Oleh has already started wearing glasses — “this is the consequence of the Sknyliv fear.” This year children did not go anywhere for recreation: “We have no money for this, Olha complained, and Oleh was entering the university. We were putting all our resources into this — we hired private tutors. Now, when the enrollment lists have been announced, we have paid the tuition for the first year.”

Only once, a year after the catastrophe, the Sykhiv Raion Council sent the children to the Truskavets spa. Then for two years in succession the boys went to Truskavets and Evpatoria to improve their health at referral of the Lviv-based Sheptytsky Clinic. Financing came from the Caritas Charitable Organization. Caritas also gave them presents on St. Nicholas Day.

“Regarding our government — they only gave us several thousand [hryvnias] immediately after the catastrophe for each child and then… They don’t even ask whether we need anything.” True, the boys receive orphans’ allowance — a total of 250 hryvnias per month. Olha, who will soon turn 70, still has a job. “I must help the children with some money,” she says.

Ostap turned out to be not very talkative. However, we have managed to get some information from him. He said that he shares a desk with Adriana. He would like to move, because there are “nicer girls” in his class. He has not yet dared to ask the teacher to move him. Perhaps, he will do so. He likes to watch the TV, mainly American comedies. He plays computer games such as “shooter and racing.” He has many friends and plays soccer. He goes to play soccer on Saturdays at 6 a.m. —“while the field is free, because older players come at 9 a.m.” He plays both in a soccer team and at school.

“Thankfully, he plays soccer. After playing for a while he has a good appetite,” his grandmother says happily. She adds, “You can’t even imagine how difficult it was in the first years after the Sknyliv tragedy. Neither a tractor, nor a car could pass by without making the boys cry as they heard the rumble.”

By Tetiana KOZYRIEVA, Lviv