This is an essay by Ukrainian writer, journalist and war volunteer Yuliya Iliukha dedicated to 15-year-old Danylo Didik.
Danya Didik was a young, patriotic school boy living in Kharkiv. He was the youngest victim of a Russian-led terrorist attack which occurred on February 22, 2015 in Kharkiv. A bomb was detonated at a Ukrainian national unity rally commemorating the anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity. The blast killed four people – Danya Didik (15), Ihor Tolmachov (52), Vadym Rybalchenko (37), Mykola Melnychuk (18).
The suspects – Viktor Tetiutsky, Serhiy Bashlykov and Volodymyr Dvornikov – were arrested, tried, sentenced, and… released. They were included in the list of prisoners who were exchanged for Ukrainian hostages on December 29, 2019. Danylo’s father Andriy was devastated.
Justice is now dead for Andriy Didyk… and for hundreds of families waiting for the Maidan murderers to be punished.
It is part of the Plus 1 project created to memorialize the fallen Defenders of Ukraine.
Author: Yuliya Iliukha
His dream was to get a puppy. A typical wish for a child – to have a dog as a best friend and faithful companion for play and protection. He convinced his parents and together, they even decided on a breed: a Majorca mastiff (Ca de Bou). All they had to do now was wait for spring when they could go and get the puppy. However, that moment would never come….
On February 23, 2015, Danya Didik, a 15-year-old boy from Kharkiv who loved Ukraine, died of a severe head injury sustained a day earlier in a deadly bombing attack by pro-Russian terrorists during the March of Unity for Ukraine.
“Danya was born prematurely, and he left us prematurely,” explains his father Andriy Didik. “He was born a month early. Right after his birth, the doctor quickly noted that the baby was very weak, with no strength even to cry. I sensed that she was preparing us for something, basically telling us, ‘you’re still both young, you’ll have other children.’ It was already late at night, and the doctor convinced me to go home and allow my wife to rest. I went instead to the Church of St. Alexander Nevsky. It was closed, but I knelt down in front of the church and prayed. The next morning, I returned to the hospital. Later that day, the doctor approached me and related that at about 11 pm the previous evening, Danya began to cry. He started to cry exactly as I was praying and asking that he live.”
The boy did survive, although, as the doctors explained, his lungs were weak and that he might have further respiratory problems. The parents read everything they could about his medical needs, and assisted their son in putting together a plan of conditioning and breathing exercises. And they succeeded. Danya didn’t even need to miss any school because he never got sick. In fact, his entire life revolved around sports, particularly his favorite, soccer. As a young boy, Danya imagined himself competing in professional soccer in the future.
“At least until Grade 7 he did a lot of training,” recalls his father. “But then one day he had a serious talk with his coach about realistic, competitive opportunities available to him and Danya agreed to change his plans, and continue with soccer only for himself. He added other sports – swimming and martial arts – to his training program,”
When he was young, it was very important for him to be independent. He wanted to go to the training sessions on his own. Which he did. From the time he was eight years old. He was proud of that.
Danya had the opportunity to live and study in Germany where he lived with his mother from the age of three. But he was determined to go to school in Kharkiv, so the family returned to Ukraine.
“This decision was classic Danya. He showed his determination to act and he did. He chose Ukraine,” laughs Andriy Didik.
In the aftermath of the student beatings at the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv, Danya tied a yellow and blue ribbon to his school backpack. Imagine what it meant at that time to walk around Kharkiv with such a Ukrainian symbol! You could get beaten up badly or punched in the head or even killed. A percentage of the city’s residents lived in fear that Russian tanks would appear at any time, while another percentage hoped they would come.
“Honestly, I was very worried, and asked my son to remove the ribbon from his backpack,” his father explains. “He replied, ‘OK’, and tucked the ribbon into his bag so that it wouldn’t be visible. Then he left the house. But when I watched him through the window, I noticed the yellow and blue ribbon hanging prominently again on his backpack. It was impossible to convince him otherwise, because he felt it wasn’t right to be afraid of those traitors in his Ukraine.”
During the spring of 2014, Danya and his friends went around painting over the “Kharkiv People’s Republic” flags that popped up everywhere on walls and lamp poles throughout the city. He didn’t directly tell his parents of his involvement, or where he was going, but only after the fact, he would admit it, or they’d know because of the paint stains on his clothes. When the Lenin statue was toppled in Kharkiv, Danya became acquainted with some of the older boys involved, and he was with them at the March of Unity on February 22, 2015.
Andriy Didik says that even now he feels his son’s presence, with constant reminders of him everywhere.
“Danya’s name for me was ‘Papka’. It was his personal term of affection. My younger daughter calls me ‘Papochka’. I remember one incident in April 2015. I had the habit of walking into Danya’s room to speak and share my thoughts with him. That day, I entered his room and realized that now, no one will call me ‘Papka’. I went into the kitchen to make myself a cup of coffee, and in runs Nika, saying ‘Papka, I’d like a glass of water’. Then she repeated: ‘Papka, give me a drink’. But that was the only time she ever called me by that name, ‘Papka’.”
Following this tragedy that befell the Didik family, they eventually did get a dog, although not the enormous Majorca mastiff as planned earlier, but rather a Yorkshire Terrier. Its name was suggested to them by something Danya had once said. He had a lighthearted way of testing his parents’ knowledge of English, and would often ask them how to translate “may be”. And so, the family dog was named Maybe.
The yellow and blue ribbon that Danya constantly carried around on his backpack, and for which he sacrificed his life, has since been cut in two. One length of it is tucked into Andriy’s passport, and the other piece is kept in the passport of his wife, Anzhela.
“By now the ribbon is quite frayed, so we are careful to preserve it. He did have another ribbon, tied to the jacket he was wearing on February 22. They gave that one to us at the hospital. We also cut it in half – one half, for the rear view mirror in my car, and the other half, in my wife’s car.”
Danya Didik would have turned 21 in April of this year (2021). His school classmates have long since graduated. In 2018, they submitted a petition signed by over 5,000 people to the mayor of Kharkiv with the proposition to name School No. 11 in honour of Danylo Didik. To date, the school has not been renamed.
Yet our fallen Heroes must return. Always. At the very least, by honourific naming streets and school buildings after them.
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.