This is an essay by Ukrainian soldier Oleksandr Tereshchenko, dedicated to fallen Defender Andriy Yurha. Oleksandr Tereshchenko served in the 79th Separate Air Assault Brigade. In September 2019, he was appointed Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Veterans.
Andriy Yurha was killed on the night of November 23, 2014 during artillery shelling by Russian armed forces in the village of Pisky, Donetsk Oblast. A shell from the enemy’s self-propelled artillery vehicle hit the building where the Ukrainian unit was spending the night.
Caught in difficult circumstances, most of us turn to God. This is especially true in war. “Our Father, who art in heaven…” we whisper when death whistles by shrilly, searching for a new target.
It is part of the Plus 1 project created to memorialize the fallen Defenders of Ukraine.
Andriy Yurha’s Story
Author: Oleksandr Tereshchenko
Heavy summer rain falls on the thirsty soil; a lone nut on a nearby tree trembles under the pressure of large raindrops. Fragile asters sway helplessly, finding neither peace nor shelter. The sky hides behind dark clouds, surrendering the town of Komarno to the pouring rain. Quiet and unhurried, like the water of the Vereshchytsia River, life in this quiet region of Halychyna is disturbed only by the elements. Everything is as usual. Blooming springtime gives way to hot summer, summer to cool autumn, and then winter with its howling snowstorms. Nothing has changed in forty years ago, except that the nut has since grown and matured.
Andriy Yurha was born and raised in the midst of this idyllic peace and calm. His father, Father Volodymyr, was a priest in the Soviet-persecuted Greek Catholic Church, which was forced to exist underground. In times of communist atheism, this was a rather risky vocation for a man to undertake. Such things instill a special attitude to God, to the church, and to Ukraine in a child’s heart… to that real and tangible Motherland, a feeling that grew and acquired real shapes. Like a green sprout fighting its way between the unrelenting rocks, this sentiment grew, strengthened, paved the way to light. Despite centuries of wandering in foreign empires, the feeling of belonging to Ukraine was everywhere: in the light wind whispering through the leaves of the ash and beech trees, in the echo of footsteps along the cosy streets, in the still silence of the churches and the ruins of antiquity. As Andriy grew and matured, this feeling became more persistent and irresistible. The era of the totalitarian Soviet state was slowly coming to an end as we approached the tumultuous year – 1991. A united and independent state was an unexpected gift of destiny, a reward for age-old pain and suffering. Entire generations of Ukrainians had sacrificed their lives for the dream of independence that was finally bestowed upon their descendants.
Gifted with a sharp mind and entrepreneurial skills, Andriy enrolled in the Faculty of Economics of Lviv National Agrarian University. This was his true vocation; at the young age of 25 he was already working as a store manager. An honest man could fill such a position in Soviet times only if he had remarkable skills, which our Hero did. However, life is full of unexpected twists of fate, and a tragedy that betook Andriy in his personal life led him to a monastery. Almost five years spent in the Monastery of St. Joseph the Betrothed in Lviv testify to his profound religious experiences and spiritual search. Andriy was not a monk, but a novice who lived a monastic life without any monastic obligations. He worked for the monastic fraternity, using his economic skills to manage their financial and economic accounts. Once again, life in the monastery convinced Andriy that the ways of the Lord are mysterious. While still a novice, he met his Mariya and fell in love, prompting a return to worldly life. After all, love inspires and motivates people to reveal their true talents.
Andriy returned to civilian life, and became the co-owner of a successful business. But, for him, the material world was secondary; he valued both simplicity and sincerity. He did not put on airs, and treated others kindly, for which he was deeply respected. It was extremely important for Andriy to live in harmony with his conscience. In serious matters he often sought the advice of his priest, as is the custom of devout Christians. He and Mariya lived in peace and harmony, and the birth of their son gave them happiness that seemed to last forever. Every Sunday and on holidays after the liturgy, the whole family read the Bible, and made plans for the future.
However, people who care about the fate of the country are rarely satisfied with family happiness only. The turbulent month of November 2013 interrupted the usual course of life of many Ukrainians. For zealous patriots, to whom our hero Andriy Yurha belonged, these dramatic events only intensified their love and personal responsibility for Ukraine. Maidan. As Ukraine teetered between European aspirations and its totalitarian Soviet past, Ukrainians found themselves facing a choice. Many could no longer stand by the wayside and stepped into the fires of Maidan. Andriy spent most of his time in Kyiv, in the thick of historic events, returning to Lviv only to gather aid for the protesters. Events unfolded rapidly, a terrifying kaleidoscope of bloody skirmishes. Clashes, the Heavenly Hundred, the bitter taste of victory. It seemed that the worst was over and everyone could return home, to a normal life, but the trials and tribulations for the country were just beginning. It was a test for a people who sincerely aspired to become a nation.
War – unexpected, ruthless and insidious. Somewhere deep in our subconscious, there was a glimmer of hope that the war would be temporary. The civilized world just couldn’t allow such a bloody tragedy to unfold in the heart of Europe in the 21st century. It seemed to us that that the Armed Forces of Ukraine would quickly deal with those illegal armed units. However, the summer brought open Russian aggression, Ilovaisk, and the threat of losing the southern part of Ukraine. Many Ukrainians, who were far removed from military service, were faced with the choice of taking up arms or negotiating with their conscience… convincing themselves that it was totally irresponsible to don a bulletproof vest and take up arms at such a late age, especially since those hands were used to holding the Bible. Trying to dispel the feeling of remorse when social media is overrun with photos of young men killed in the war. Andriy was not discouraged by the refusal of the military recruitment and enlistment office. Friends and relatives tried to persuade him to abandon his attempts to go East, told him to focus on volunteer activities. But, Andriy’s conscience bothered him; he became restless, and he finally made the ultimate decision to serve his country. He completed military training in Nizhyn and joined a unit of the OUN Battalion.
By the end of November 2014, Pisky had become one of the hot spots on the Eastern Front. The Ukrainian divisions defending Donetsk Airport had reached their limit, requiring more troop reinforcements. Andriy’s unit was deployed to that area.
Caught in difficult circumstances, most of us turn to God. This is especially true in war. “Our Father, who art in heaven…” we whisper when death whistles by shrilly, searching for a new target. A cross around the neck, a bracelet with portraits of saints on the hand, a sacred Image in the pocket. We truly want to believe that the Lord will protect and save us. It is difficult to comprehend the sacred meaning of salvation and God’s plan for us and for humanity. We strive to survive in hellish battles or take a step into eternity with dignity. Andrew Yurha was a man for whom faith and spiritual search did not depend on external circumstances. The Psalms were his favourite book and a faithful companion in the war. That is why he chose the call sign “David”.
Our “David” was not a man of war, but the fact that he now found himself in a place where death amasses daily bloody casualties with cold indifference became most important for him. In war, under the daily threat of losing a comrade and the enemy’s perfidy and unjustified cruelty, it’s very difficult to remain unmarked and unscathed. It’s difficult to see the fine line between humanity and the ardent desire for revenge. In fact, this line separates us from our enemies, and makes us aware of the fact that we are leading a righteous fight for our freedom and our country.
The second night was “David’s” last. On the eve of the tragedy, he carefully cleaned the house he was staying in. He gazed tenderly at photos of his wife, son and mother. Before going to bed, he prayed diligently and with fervour. And then suddenly… explosive fragments released from a 152-mm self-propelled enemy gun hit “David’s” house on the second attempt, leaving him with no chance of survival.
People aren’t able to determine the duration of their lives. This truth is entirely within the jurisdiction of Divine Providence. However, the Lord gives us the opportunity to live our lives with dignity, as Andriy did in his fifties. He met his end with honour, on the frontline, a true warrior and a faithful son of his nation. Hero Andriy Yurha will forever be remembered by Ukrainians, as the tuning fork for the strings of our Souls.
The project is built around 22 individual exhibition stands. In iconic and powerful moments captured by a photographer’s camera – Youry Bilak, a Frenchman of Ukrainian descent – Ukrainian families tell the stories of their loved ones – Ukrainian soldiers who perished in the war. Each narrative, each individual is but one small grain, one tiny unit of a module in a living organism. By telling his story, we bring him back to life.
Each family chose an object that most reminds them of their departed: a father’s jacket, a guitar, a suit of medieval armour, a book. These family artifacts reflect a living continuation of the departed loved one. Ukrainian artists, intellectuals, and journalists were invited to create original texts about each soldier.