Zhanneta looks at her cell phone with a worried expression on her face. My phone has also picked up a loud siren: There is an air alert in large parts of Ukraine. A clearly designed app provides information about this, including tips on the nearest air raid shelters. But here in Vynnyky, a town of 30,000 near Lviv, there are not as many options as in Kiev, where people seek shelter in the metro stations.
We could go to the basement, which is what my host family did during the first months of the war. But 18-year-old Artem doesn’t think much of it. If a missile were to hit here, in rural Vynnyky, and hit the house, would you be much better off in the basement than on the first floor? „Here you’d get blown to death, but down there you’d eventually suffocate under the rubble. Better to die quickly than slowly,“ Artem says with a matter-of-factness and cluelessness that is absolutely understandable but leaves me concerned. Such a calm, attentive and polite young person should not have to worry about such things. But Artem, who has two summer vacation jobs in addition to his studies of alternative energies and is diligently putting money aside to fulfill his dreams of owning his own business, is detached, like so many young Ukrainians for whom life must somehow go on. You adapt, he explains; you have to adapt, he affirms.
Meanwhile, Zhanneta, Artem’s aunt and the mother of Nataliia, who lives in Luxembourg, has been finding out more info about what’s happening via a WhatsApp channel. People post there when they spot drones or planes. Zhanneta, a mathematics professor at the University of Lviv, briefly rolls over in her head and then says that up to 72 missiles could come down. Later, Spiegel Online will say, „Russia covers western Ukraine with attacks – air defenses intercept 36 cruise missiles.“ This is the kind of news that I, too, used to see every day on wort.lu. Now, however, the experience is different.
Zhanneta follows the attack very closely. In the warning app you can set for which region you want to be notified. But even on days when it’s quiet on the Lviv region, she reads along in the chats and worries about people in other parts of the country. „I don’t sleep well then,“ says the 55-year-old, but she can’t ignore the misery.
I spend two pleasant days with Nathalia’s family. The fact that her father and grandmother don’t speak English makes things more complicated, but on the second day I install a translation app that translates spoken words within seconds. So we can have a formidable conversation at the kitchen table. The 78–year–old woman, now in a wheelchair, complains that she can no longer make herself useful as she used to. She shows me her Marian icons, and now I can score points with my altar boy days: I spontaneously recite to her two of the most popular Marian hymns in my home village: „Maria breit den Mantel aus„ and „Wunderschön prächtige.„ This moves the woman to tears and I am also moved.
I rested for two days – more or less. After all, meeting up with cycling enthusiasts, writing a diary and blog texts, and doing social media work for my charity project are fun, but they also cost energy. On the third day, July 27, it’s time for me to hit the road. First, however, I am invited to the town hall, where Bohdan Shuster welcomes me. The mayor of Wynnyky shows me the donations in kind that his employees regularly send to the east of the country. And he shows me an A4 sheet with a list, over which Artem also bends with great interest. It contains names and dates of life, documented without frills for posterity. It is a list of the fallen from the city.
1. Кабаков Дмитро Володимирович (22.10.1963 – 25.02.2022)
2. Костів Андрій (10.12.1985 -29.03.2022)
3. Корольов Сергій (06.07.1973 – 13.06.2022)
4. Гриновець Ігор (30.05.1971 – 21.09.2022)
Some of these soldiers gave their lives days after the Russian invasion. Others were born only in 1995 or 1997 and yet are already buried. The numbers 17 and 18 have been added by hand. But for Artem, 17 is not a number. It is his cousin Bohdan-Mykhailo Khomyk.
„My cousin was interested in boxing since childhood and participated in many sports activities related to boxing. He also learned to play the guitar himself. He trained as a chef,“ Nataliia tells me. In 2013, he joined a special unit, where he stayed for two years. In 2020, he became a contractor for the 15th Battalion of the 128 Mountain Assault Brigade. „Since the first days of the large-scale invasion by the Russian Federation, Bogdan and his brigade were fully involved in the defense of Ukraine and civilians,“ Nataliia says. He suffered several bruises and broke his leg, but Bogdan was patriotically minded: „He had a strong sense of justice, and that’s why he returned to the front after the injuries he suffered,“ his cousin says.
Bogdan took part in the counteroffensive of his homeland, which was associated with high hopes. His wife Vira, his three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Victoria, his mother Iryna, his father Roman and his mother-in-law Nadia hoped that he would return safely. But this hope was dashed: Bogdan died on June 17 in P’yatykhatky in the Dnipropetrovsk region.
„Bogdan was a great son of his family and we are deeply saddened by his death,“ says Nataliia, who is in Luxembourg and geographically far away, but closely connected with her relatives.
What remains is pride in the courage and honorable service of Bogdan, who received numerous high honors, including the Grey Beret. He is buried on the Field of Mars in Lviv, which I visited a few days ago.
What remains is also the hope of people changes that their struggle is not in vain. „The glory and will of Ukraine are not yet dead,“ says the national anthem; „destiny will smile upon us.“