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“I’m going to war to save lives, not to fight,”- do not forget fallen Defender Oleksandr Kondratiuk

“I’m going to war to save lives, not to fight,”- do not forget fallen Defender Oleksandr Kondratiuk
Article by: Maksym Lyzhov
Translated by: Jeffrey D. Stephaniuk
Edited by: Lydia Eliashevsky-Replansky
This is an essay by Ukrainian poet Maksym Lyzhov, dedicated to fallen Defender Oleksandr Kondratiuk, call sign “Black Wolf”, who served as head of the medical service of the 90th Battalion of the 81st Separate Airmobile Brigade. Oleksandr was killed on January 20, 2015 during the evacuation of the Cyborgs from Donetsk Airport.

Oleksandr approached every battle as a battle for Ukraine. He loved Ukraine and felt lucky to be born here, both in the Cherkasy region, where he spent his childhood, and Vinnytsia, where he received his medical education, found the love of his life and became a father.

It is part of the Plus 1 project created to memorialize the fallen Defenders of Ukraine.

Oleksandr Kondratiuk. Saving Lives

Author: Maksym Lyzhov

“I’m going to war to save lives, not to fight,” volunteer soldier Oleksandr Kondratiuk reassuringly told his wife, Myroslava, as he prepared to leave for the front. Kondratiuk – Senior Lieutenant in the Ukrainian Army, Head of the medical unit of the 90th Battalion of the 81st Separate Airborne Brigade and Cyborg, call sign “Black Wolf.” He gained initial experience and success saving lives during his internship as a paramedic and then as a volunteer medic at Euromaidan.

In the New Year 2014, a million Ukrainian protestors gathered together under the open skies in the very heart of Kyiv. Despite freezing temperatures, cold snow, police blockades and violent attempts to disperse them, the peaceful protestors held fast, as their numbers rose. Maidan presented itself as a great utopia to the entire world – a remarkably self-organized society, and an achievement founded on the groundswell of popular will; a true feat of the human spirit. Every minute, 24/7, Maidan confounded enemies and participants, becoming the nerve centre of the entire world during that fiery winter.

Oleksandr, along with other volunteers, established their medical units at a time when no one could have foreseen the imminent deaths of the Heavenly Hundred. Their medical stations were always busy, the medics were preoccupied with solving endless problems, and if they ever had a free moment, it was usually late at night. The situation intensified as Berkut security forces began shooting unarmed civilians, kidnapping the wounded from ambulances and hospitals, torturing and killing people.

Oleksandr Kondratiuk (middle) with medics on the Maidan in Kyiv


The medics were always at the vanguard of events, and with the first fatalities, they themselves were caught in the centre of the bloody chaos, closest to death. For many of them, this was their first real-life experience with life and death. And the point of no return…It’s impossible to comprehend the emotional challenges faced by these doctors – trying desperately to save lives, coping with persistent death and dying, numbly writing death certificates, breaking the bad news to bereaved families. And this scenario repeats over and over again…This was truly baptism by fire.

The government itself acted criminally and signed their own guilty verdict when they opened fire on peaceful demonstrators. Unfortunately, to this day, justice has not been served in Ukraine or at The Hague. The Yanukovych regime was toppled by Maidan, but rather than a celebration of triumph, what followed was burial of the dead and mourning the loss of the Heavenly Hundred. Our nationwide grief was further darkened by yet another great misfortune – war.

Wars will continue for as long as there are imperial aggressors. With Putin’s Russia next door, peace is impossible, because only “Russian peace” is permissible. By choosing European integration, Ukraine firmly turned her back on the “Russkiy mir” (Russian world). There was no doubt that Moscow would attack: the expectation was not if but when. The presence of the Russian navy in Crimea, a pro-Russian president in Kyiv, the ubiquitous Moscow patriarchate and Kremlin propaganda on national television channels, clearly indicated that the invasion of Ukraine was always in the plans.

In 2014, Russia chose to attack during a time of national grief and political upheaval, uncertainty and chaos. Ukraine was without a President and Commander-in-Chief, without an effective government and with no combat-ready army. But the Kremlin seriously underestimated Maidan. Ukrainians began to mobilize in Kyiv and other cities, quickly discarding funeral attire for camouflage gear. Volunteer battalions organized themselves right there in the main city squares.  Doctor Oleksandr Kondratiuk joined too.

As a medic, Oleksandr was continually rushing to those in need of immediate assistance. He had the uncanny ability to diagnose a problem no matter where and to offer medical advice to anyone. As a citizen, he was hardworking and sincere. As a person, in his entire life he advocated on behalf of the vulnerable and misfortunate. Oleksandr had a keen sense of justice and carried it with him to the end of his life. His desire for truth and justice motivated him and thousands of other Ukrainians to participate in the Orange Revolution, then Euromaidan and in the ongoing war against Russia.

The imperialist threat was clearly identifiable to the former republics, but the bigger surprise was not aggression from the East, but the reaction of the West. The manner, in which the world abandoned Ukraine to face a stronger enemy alone, and a brutish annexation and intervention right in the heart of Europe, became a cause of deep concern. And all this is happening in the 21st century, when a pandemic, climate change and other global challenges require global collaborations and partnerships to make decisions to counter rogue ambitions and whims.

Twenty years before Maidan, the most powerful countries of the world (including Russia) signed the Budapest Memorandum, pledging to protect Ukraine, her sovereignty and security. Ukraine fulfilled her obligations within the Memorandum by implementing nuclear disarmament measures. Since then, the crisis in global political authority has removed all illusions as to the credibility of international guarantees. Ukraine has shown herself to be a peace-loving nation in contrast to the signatories of the Memorandum, who have been shown to be malleable partners of Russia.

Since Ukraine relinquished its nuclear weapons, there has been an increase in corrupt politicians, traitors, and overt agents of the Kremlin. Nonetheless, our peace-loving nation has repeatedly exhibited the extent of their love of freedom. The number of Ukrainians who have died for our independence in the current war has surpassed ten thousand – an incomprehensible and unimaginable figure. Military statistics often focus on fatalities, bypassing wounded survivors. It goes without saying that if not for the medics, human losses would have been much greater. Oleksandr Kondratiuk joined the war effort to save lives, but war does not leave peace-loving nations, civilians or professionals unscathed.

Oleksandr Kondratiuk dreamed of becoming a highly skilled surgeon. As a doctor, he was self-motivated, excelled in specialized subjects and enjoyed practical clinical training, becoming adept at diagnosing the nuances of over 500 heart murmurs! He desired more, but without money, it was extremely difficult for him to obtain a surgeon’s licence. He was principled and refused to stoop to bribery. And so, he graduated from the Department of Pediatrics at Vinnytsia University and accepted an internship in Kyiv, taking his dreams along with him. Oleksandr Kondratiuk was hardworking, singularly focused, and during the war was convinced that one day, he would attain his goal.

Oleksandr Kondratiuk (middle) with his comrades-in-arms

The first year of the war was the most crucial, bloody and tragic. The Ukrainian Army rose up before our very eyes, eyes that quickly filled with tears and sorrow. Following Maidan and brief military training, volunteer soldier Oleksandr Kondratiuk arrived at the front line in the ranks of the 90th Separate Airborne Battalion, exactly where the fiercest battles were being fought. He worked tirelessly in the Donetsk district to save the lives of paratroopers in Kostiantynivka, comrades-in-arms in Pisky and the Cyborgs of the Donetsk International Airport..

Oleksandr was naturally talented for this work. During hellish battles and under incessant shelling, he gained valuable surgical experience. Every day he tended to the wounded and performed various complex surgeries in field hospital and combat conditions. Unfortunately, the war forever ended his dream of becoming a surgeon. On January 20, 2015, senior medic Kondratiuk was killed while evacuating a group of 300 wounded soldiers from the Donetsk Airport. At about the same time, his wife and four-year-old daughter were waiting for him in Vinnytsia.

The funeral procession was held in his mother’s village, Shpola. His countrymen carried Oleksandr’s casket to its final resting place on their knees. Today, in Shpola, there is a street named after him: Oleksandr Kondratiuk Street, and he is an honourary citizen of the city. Memorial plaques in his honour have been unveiled at every educational institution that he attended: the primary school in the village Yaroslavka, Cherkasy Medical College, and the Pirohov National Medical University in Vinnytsia.

Oleksandr’s call sign was “Black Wolf”, a wolf with a parachute depicted on his chevron. His 90th Separate Airborne Battalion now bears the name of  Hero of Ukraine Senior Lieutenant Ivan Zubkov. Zubkov died the same day as Oleksandr, also rescuing his brothers-in-arms. The battalion lost 40 soldiers in total in their defence of Donetsk Airport. On the battalion’s anniversary, the Cyborgs unveiled a memorial to the fallen paratroopers in Kostiantynivka. Among the engraved names is Kondratiuk, the leader of the medics.

Oleksandr received several honours and military awards, all of them posthumously: Order of Bohdan Khmelnytskyi Third Class, a lapel badge “For the defence of Donetsk Airport”, a medal of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) “For Sacrifice and Love for Ukraine”. Also a posthumous promotion to the rank of Lieutenant. All awards were presented to his wife, Myroslava and their four-year-old daughter Anhelina, including one that was presented by the President.

Oleksandr approached every battle as a battle for Ukraine. He loved Ukraine and felt lucky to be born here, both in the Cherkasy region, where he spent his childhood, and Vinnytsia, where he received his medical education, found the love of his life and became a father. Anhelina has her dad’s eyes, and just as her name suggests, she is a real angel. When Myroslava looks at her daughter, she sees her husband. Both remember Oleksandr and cherish his memory. Anhelina often mentions that when she grows up, she wants to become a doctor just like her father. Oleksandr’s dream is alive and well…

Helping people is at the heart of the medical profession, which is impossible without kindness, love and dedication. But one’s blessings are multiplied a hundredfold, and neither borders nor death can stop the expressions of gratitude. People don’t forget their saviours. After all, their lifesavers gave them the chance to be born again, take a second breath, have another go at life in order to complete what they started or to start with a clean slate, alive as a changed person or to change the world.

Just as a child is a continuation of one’s parents, a life saved is a continuation of one’s doctors. While it is not possible to know how many individuals Oleksandr saved, it is possible to say that he lives on in all of them. To this day, he is on the front line, on the Maidan, in the operating room; and with those who hold back the enemy at the front or thwart the pro-Russian political revenge in the rear. He is with all those who dream and love and work, helping to build a better life in Ukraine.

For a long time, Oleksandr had hoped to get away to the sea with his family. He promised his daughter he would teach her to swim. That was not to be. Loyal brothers-in-arms would later realize his wish by arranging a holiday for Myroslava and Anhelina. The young family vacationed at the seaside, but without dad.

In 2014, volunteer fighters left their families in order to protect them; they left their homes so that they would have homes to return to. They quit their jobs and academic studies, realizing that a career in captivity would be worthless. Men and women from all over Ukraine went to war to defend their Homeland. By the time politicians began speaking about the unity of the country, this volunteer army was already on the move.

The war in the East continues. Every day, Ukrainian soldiers die. Every minute, their ultimate personal sacrifices protect civilians, families, professionals remaining behind. Safely, behind the soldiers’ backs, stand Ukraine, Europe and the entire civilized world. The price of a human life is the price of human civilization. For, as long as wars and bloodshed continue, truth falters to lies, greed and inequality proliferate and history is repeatedly forgotten – the world needs heroes.

Let us remember them! Let us remember Oleksandr Kondratiuk who sacrificed his life to save others!

The PLUS 1 exhibit was created to depict a new socio-cultural image of Ukrainians in search of their own identity. It is also part of a comprehensive multimedia advocacy campaign in which the narratives of Ukrainian soldiers, who perished in the Russo-Ukrainian war, are told through portrait photography and original texts written by eminent Ukrainians.

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.

Translated by: Jeffrey D. Stephaniuk
Edited by: Lydia Eliashevsky-Replansky
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