More than two hundred Ukrainian servicemen were awarded honorary medals by the President of Ukraine since the outbreak of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine; 30 of them received the Title of the Hero of Ukraine. Along with the army, Ukrainian civil society resists Russian aggression dedicating their time, resources, health, and life. Here are some of their stories.
Vyacheslav, a geography teacher
On 24 February Vyacheslav, a geography teacher, was in the Carpathian mountains planning a winter ascent of Mount Hoverla. He left for Kyiv immediately after he learned of Russia’s attack on Ukraine on the morning news.
In 2014-2015, Vyacheslav defended the borders in the east of Ukraine. Now he is on patrol in Kyiv. During the first days of the war, his group was working on eliminating Russian sabotage groups.
However, Vyacheslav did not abandon his pupils:
“I started conducting ‘remote lessons’ for students, parents, and teachers. On February 28, I gathered 70 people in Zoom. We reassure children, explain what war is, or just joke around. We tell children that the Armed Forces of Ukraine is the strongest army in the world and the whole civilized world is helping us. We have no other choice but to win.”
His school in Troyeschyna district began to help Vyacheslav’s territorial defense unit by baking bread. One mother of his student, as Vyacheslav tells, brought 70 pizzas at once for the boys from the territorial defense.
“People are now united as never before, the Armed Forces and the Territorial defense are receiving crazy support from the civilian population by all possible means. There are queues on the streets of those who want to join the defense, which has not ended for five days in a row. We have no choice but to win. This is our land, the land of our ancestors, we have nowhere to run. We are fighting for our childrens’ and grandchildrens’ future.”
Olia, a cafe owner
On 25 February, Olia planned to participate in a flea market and natural wine festival. She owns a cafe and was preparing to place new equipment and arrange planning on the eve.
“On the 24th of February, I woke up to non-stop phone calls and messages saying ‘the war has begun.’ I live in an apartment above my cafe. I immediately called my mother, co-workers, friends and insisted that everyone should come to me. I made a decision for myself: I would not go anywhere, I would stay here and do everything I can.”
Olia’s cafe, located in a post-war building, has a basement in the utility rooms which are solid and warm. For several days 45 people were gathered in the shelter, 10 of them children. Also, there are 8 dogs and 5 cats. The people range in age from 2 to 68.
“My mother makes homemade food all the time, it adds a lot of comfort and lifts the general spirit. We jokingly named our chat “luxury shelter”, because we have breakfast in the café. We set a time when all our doors are closed and roller shutters are let down. The most important thing is that all people gather together and we have each other.”
Vitaliy, a lieutenant, Hero of Ukraine
Shakhtar Donetsk club called on Vitaliy, a young football player from Lviv and member of the Karpaty children’s football club, to play for Shakhtar, which is one of the best football clubs in Ukraine. However, Vitaliy decided to join the ground forces instead. His grandmother Halyna Sapylo told Radio Liberty:
“He always was such a kindhearted child, and one day he said, ‘I want to go to the army.’”
Vitaliy Sapilo became a tank platoon commander. 21-year-old lieutenant neutralized 30 units of enemy equipment. For this he received the title of Hero of Ukraine from the President – sadly posthumously. He died in an airstrike on 25 February in fighting near the Ukrainian-Belarusian border. A Russian missile purposefully hit the tank he was piloting.
“They gave a lead and the SU-25 arrived. It was a direct hit and my grandson received a fatal injury. He gave the most precious thing he had – his life – for our life. He is a hero of Ukraine, and heroes do not die,” said Vitaly’s grandfather, Mykola Sapylo.
Vitaliy was buried in his native village Sokilnyky in the Lviv suburbs where hundreds of his fellow villagers came to say goodbye to him. In 2014 the village lost a hero, Andriy Digdalovich, whom Vitaliy knew well. Andriy was his football coach and one of the Heavenly Hundred heroes who was killed by a sniper bullet during the Revolution of Dignity in 2014.
Nadiya, a retiree
Retiree Nadiya lives in a geriatric boarding house in Lutsk. Nadiya refused to be relocated to Poland after the outbreak of the war, insisting she will stay in her homeland. She makes varenyky (dumplings) for soldiers and internally displaced people while sitting in her wheelchair.
“Our children die for their children and grandchildren. There is no way for all of us not to help.”
In the geriatric boarding house in Lutsk, all 140 wards and employees of the center make varenyky to send to the Ukrainian military and people who lost their homes due to the war. A traditional Ukrainian dish, varenyky require a long time to make but can be frozen for a long time and cooked quickly.
Elderly people in the center made 40 buckets of varenyky in just three days. Ingredients are provided by the volunteers.
Henadiy, a millionaire
Hennadiy is the owner and founder of BGV Group and the owner of ATB, one of the biggest supermarket networks in Ukraine. He is 63 years old, his fortune is $530 million, and he ranks 15th in the list of the 100 richest Ukrainians, as Forbes writes.
When Russia started the war, Hennadiy Butkevych joined the ranks of territorial defense himself and addressed all people working for his companies to do the same.
“I appeal to our employees, to my colleagues, to those who want and know how to hold weapons: I urge you to join the territorial defense and defend what we have been building with you for so long, and what each of us loves so passionately and appreciates.”
ATB supermarket has 60,000 employees according to the company’s website. Butkevych’s daughter is active in volunteering, helping people with a place to live, medicine, and food.
“We will definitely rebuild the country. Once victory is in our hands, we will continue to invest together in new unique projects and social initiatives. But today we have to defend and defend, fight and fight.”
Yevhen, a lieutenant, Hero of Ukraine
Yevhen Palchenko is a 23-years-old Ukrainian born in the small town Rayhorod in Vinnytsia Oblast. These days he is defending Ukraine from Russia’s aggression as a commander of a tank platoon in the Ukrainian army.
On 3 March President Zelenskyy awarded Yevhen the honorary title of Hero of Ukraine. When Yevhen’s brigade was encircled by Russian troops, the commander bravely covered the brigade’s exit from encirclement and saved the lives of his comrades.
“Yevhen, you are our pride,” commented the head of Vinnytsia Oblast Administration Viacheslav Sokolov. ”God bless you”.
In the decree, the President of Ukraine signed on March 2, together with Yevhen 14 more warriors were awarded the honorary title of the Hero of Ukraine for their deeds, nine of them posthumously.
Currently, Yevhen continues to defend Ukraine near Kherson.
Anastasiya, a volunteer
The 26-year-old Anastasiya refused to leave Kyiv, even though she was all alone there. Her husband, who lives in Sri Lanka, also told her to evacuate from Kyiv. However, Anastasiya decided to stay and help civilians and pets.
“We are not afraid. We are united as never before. We help each other. We stand at checkpoints for hours and thank those who protect us,” Anastasiya wrote on 1 March.
The northwestern part of Kyiv Oblast is the most dangerous area around the capital. Battles with Russian troops and shootings there have been ongoing since the outbreak of the Russian invasion. Driving her car, Anastasiya delivered food and water to people living close to the shooting.
After the bridge was destroyed by Russian troops in Irpin, she sought other ways to get to the city and did not quit helping kindergartens, pet shelters and private homes. In her blog, she shared insights she has learned about the safe transition through the checkpoints, her moments of tiredness but for the most part of aspiration and hope.
“I never considered myself a big patriot or Armed Forces admirer. But today, after talking to the guys at the checkpoints several times, I realized how cool they are, and felt so proud of the country I live in and the people around me,” she wrote on 28 February.
On 4 March Anastasiya’s best friend could not reach her for several hours and began to worry. She called one of two other volunteers with whom Anastasiya was driving a car. He told her that he had found their car riddled with bullets, not far from his house.
“Not being able to help her last journey is very painful for me,” Anastasiya’s husband says.
Russian troops’ deliberate targeting of civilian cars is massive. On the same day Anastasiya was killed, not far from that place Russian tanks fired on a car with six civilians driving from Vorzel. A woman and a 17-year-old girl were killed; others have shrapnel wounds, including girls aged 7 and 17.
“They want people to be scared and horrified. But it only makes our people braver.” Anastasiya’s best friend says.
“She was one of the best human beings I knew. She was committed to helping, to help her friends and relatives and whoever needed help,” Anastasiya’s husband says.