Editor’s NoteThis is an essay by Ukrainian writer Nataliya Hurnytska, dedicated to fallen Defender Vasyl Arkhipov who served in the Donbas Volunteer Battalion.
On May 23, 2014, his unit was ambushed by Russian terrorists near the village of Karlivka in Donetsk Oblast. Vasyl was gravely wounded but continued to fire his weapon until no ammunition remained. In the final moments of his life, he attempted to detonate a grenade, burying the enemy with him. But he was too late…the Russian terrorists shot and killed him. Four other fighters died with him in that battle: Oleh Kovalyshyn (“Reider”), Mykola Kozlov (“Matviy”), Oleksiy Miroshnychenko (“Fedir”), Denys Riabenko (“Ryabiy”). Five other soldiers were wounded.
Vasyl’s motto reflected the grand perspective that fueled his zeal to love his neighbours and Ukraine: “Love your country more than you love your own life; open your heart to others; give your soul to God the Lord; and guard your honour at all times.” Here is the explanation for how he envisioned the world in all its many dimensions, breathed with the gusto of life, and trusted others.
It is part of the Plus 1 project created to memorialize the fallen Defenders of Ukraine.
Author: Nataliya Hurnytska
Vasyl Vasylovych Arkhipov, 58 years old
Date of birth: 31.10.1956
Date of death: 23.05.2014
Call sign: “Grandfather”, “Arkhip”
Place of residence: Makiyivka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine
Place of death: Karlivka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine
Family: wife Tania, son Oleksandr, daughter Olesia, grandchildren Polina and Taras
He was a fighter with the Donbas Territorial Defence Battalion in Donetsk Oblast. In 2014, despite retirement age and serious health issues, he volunteered as a soldier to defend his native land. That same year, in a battle near the village of Karlivka, he was caught in an ambush, gravely wounded and killed by Russian terrorists.
In this biography of staggering statistics of military casualties, dates of birth and death inscribed on a cemetery gravestone, lays an entire life journey of a unique individual. Vasyl sincerely believed that the world could be changed for the better. His love for his native land was evident, as was his uncompromising decision to defend his Homeland. In the final moments of his life, he fought valiantly, making the ultimate self-sacrifice for future generations, upholding beliefs that Ukraine and her people deserve this deep loyalty.
Vasyl Vasylovych Arkhipov… Date of birth: 31.10.1956; Date of death: 23.05.2014. He has now joined the ranks of thousands of soldiers who died in the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) zone. They will forever remain heroes. Yet another life cut short and ruined by war. And an irreparable loss for his family who will grieve and hold memories of their beloved close to their hearts for the rest of their lives. For the family of Vasyl Vasylovych, it has also meant the injustice of a grandfather not spending time with his grandchildren, who must now grow up without their grandfather present. As human beings, we tend to eschew difficult personal losses, closing our eyes and hoping to wake up in a different reality, with our loved one still present.
Vasyl Arkhipov went to war, but his old leather jacket still hangs in the foyer by the front door of the family home. It’s as though he has returned from the war, and you expect that, at any moment now, he will emerge from his room, smile, say something interesting, maybe disagree or argue your comment. But…. it’s only his jacket now in the foyer, a silent daily reminder to relatives of a father, husband and grandfather. It hangs there in the foyer not because it’s been forgotten or is some attempt to highlight the loss of its owner. Rather, it creates the illusion that the one to whom it belongs has not died, nor faded away, or disappeared forever, but rather lives on.
Such a thought somehow makes it easier to live, although in all honesty, life will never be the same. Nothing can ever compensate for certain losses, although they have the ability to teach you how to live again: to live your life cherishing the memory of this deceased loved one, and not for a minute to forget how he died, why this happened, and who is responsible for his death. While lists of fatal casualties might appear as dry statistics, the history, accomplishments and fate of each fallen fighter are always unique and personal. A biography that appears common enough at first glance is really the narrative of a life that could only have ended in ultimate self-sacrifice and fiery heroism.
Vasyl Vasylovych Arkhipov was born into a coal mining family. After graduating from grade school and technical school, he joined the army and served with the Border Guard Service. Following his discharge, he returned home, and then spent ten years working in the mines. He enjoyed the sport of dog showing and conformation. He was a premier-ranked judge, master of sport, three-time Ukrainian SSR champion and won a bronze at the USSR championship in 1982. He trained four championship dogs of Ukraine, two silver and two bronze medallists at the USSR championship and 15 masters of sport. From 1981 to 1989, he was senior trainer in dog breeding in Donetsk Oblast.
When the Soviet Union collapsed and massive unemployment ensued, Vasyl did not hesitate or waste time but started a sawmill business. It consumed all his energy and health, patience and time. Sometimes, it seemed as though his natural character traits of limitless trust in people, uncompromising standards, honesty, and total commitment to his work hindered rather than made his company more successful. He suffered a stroke, then a heart attack, requiring lengthy rehabilitation. On top of all this, doctors diagnosed cataracts on both his eyes. Another person might have given up long ago, but not Vasyl. Not only did he look after his own welfare, but he helped others as well.
Even in retirement, living on a pension, he continued to work. He had a unique outlook on life, appreciating every moment and living life to the fullest. In other words, Vasyl Vasylovych fostered the attitude that each day, allocated to him by the chronometer of Eternity, should be lived as though it were his last, because it well could be. When he loved, it was to the excess of self-sacrifice; when he travelled, it was with the greatest zeal and speed; when committed to a project, he completed it like a victor in a contest. Such was his attitude as well towards activities of daily life. When he brought flowers for his wife, it was usually a humongous bouquet of roses or wildflowers. When he brought presents for his children, they would be awed, remembering that moment for the rest of their lives. If someone asked for advice, he would give detailed instructions on the best way to proceed.
This is the experience of those destined to live extraordinary fates, who carry out a unique mission, and who feel a unique responsibility before others, before God and one’s country for all that is happening in the world around them. He was one of those individuals who did not settle for compromise, did not advocate half-measures or a retreat from convictions, namely one of those who clearly knows that a great deal is expected of them. Such men are often set apart as bright pillars of light on the horizon by which they forever gain entry into Eternity. His motto reflected the grand perspective that fueled his zeal to love his neighbours and Ukraine: “Love your country more than you love your own life; open your heart to others; give your soul to God the Lord; and guard your honour at all times.” Here is the explanation for how he envisioned the world in all its many dimensions, breathed with the gusto of life, and trusted others.
From November 2013, Vasyl was consumed by the events on Maidan and the Revolution of Dignity. When pro-Russian intervention began in eastern Ukraine, he experienced a serious identity crisis, becoming intensely anxious about the fate of both the country and its citizens. He immediately went to the army recruiting station to enlist, but was rejected on account of his age and health. His attempts to overturn this official decision were futile. But a person of Vasyl’s character, convictions, and principles, could not remain a bystander for long when it was evident that the country was facing a crisis.
With eyes brimming with stubbornness and decisiveness, holding high his idealism and love for Ukraine, Vasyl needed to act now! He joined the ranks of the Donbas Volunteer Battalion. When ordered to the front, he packed his documents, all his medication (pills, drops) and departed for war. He proved himself to be a real man, not finding excuses or expecting others to take his responsibilities or physical weaknesses upon themselves. He was painfully aware of the need to muster all his strength and protect those who were weaker. His motivation was an unconditional love for his native land and joy at being a volunteer soldier of the Donbas. Further, he believed that Ukraine would be victorious. He personally felt blessed and his morale was high. He was full of energy and wasn’t afraid of challenges. He clearly understood why and what he was fighting for, as any real man and defender would do in this complicated time.
On May 23, 2014, his unit, consisting of 25 fighters, was ambushed by Russian terrorists near the village of Karlivka in Donetsk Oblast. Vasyl Vasylovych Arkhipov was gravely wounded but continued to fire his weapon until no ammunition remained. In the final moments of his life, he attempted to detonate a grenade, burying the enemy with him. But he was too late…the Russian terrorists shot and killed him. Four other fighters died with him in that battle: Oleh Kovalyshyn (“Reider”), Mykola Kozlov (“Matviy”), Oleksiy Miroshnychenko (“Fedir”), Denys Riabenko (“Ryabiy”). Five other soldiers were wounded.
We are overwhelmed with incredible pain when such individuals pass into Eternal Life. So much is lost and still left unactualized: love and passion, plans and projects, joy and laughter of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The fighters have not lived to taste the sweet smell of victory over their enemies or see their dreams become reality. This is an injustice, and it’s not right. It’s not the way life should be.
Vasyl’s family has since moved and settled in Ivano-Frankivsk. His daughter, Olesia, is a psychologist and human rights activist. She is also very involved in community volunteerism, helping internally-displaced persons from eastern Ukraine to integrate into the local community. Like her father, Olesia is decisive, energetic, focused and strong-willed.
Vasyl’s son, Oleksandr, took after his mother, Tania… The family is united by the bond of a father who continues even now to be the most important person in their lives. They love him, grieve his loss, and miss him greatly. They measure all their actions, plans and thoughts up to him, as he remains the benchmark of dedication, love, courage and strength.
And what of the old jacket? It remains hanging in the foyer, a silent reminder for all, of that person and life that has not really left. One man’s beliefs can indeed inspire others to acts of heroism. We must remember our heroes and their achievements, and continue to defend their ideals and never-ever betray their principles.
Let us then foster our own humanity, love Ukraine, fight for her and remain optimistic and hopeful of victory!
Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!
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.
Tags: Defender of Ukraine, Identity, Photo project, Russo-Ukrainian War (2014-present)