Mother of Azovstal fighter: «The son asked to pray for them daily»
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Ms Iryna, please tell us in short about yourself.
- I teach the history of the Ukrainian state and the history of Ukrainian law in a college. In Lviv, the first protests began in 1988-1989, it was the period of struggle for Ukrainian statehood. I was still very young, but my parents participated there actively. I’ve always been interested in history, and I remember how difficult it was to find the book «Ukraine: a history» by Orest Subtelny. Later, I started reading additional literature, in particular, the first memoirs of political prisoners. I could never imagine that everything could happen again.
What was your life before February 24?
- My life, like that of most Ukrainians, was changed in 2014. For the past four years, my son has been serving in Mariupol. He went there in 2018, and a year later, spent nine months with his comrades on the Svitlodar arc. Then, it was the vanguard. My life has been troubled ever since. Of course, not like now, but we lived in a state of war. Since 2014, we’ve all been helping the army as much as we could. We volunteered and helped with money. Therefore, my life was like this: work, friends, constant worry about the child and maximum help from the army.
You must have told your son a lot about the history of Ukraine, right?
- He was always conscious. We often talked about Ukrainian history, and he was brought up on patriotic and Ukrainian Insurgent Army’s songs, which always sounded at home. His favourite was «Lenta za lentoyu» (Tape by Tape). Taras Chubai also released his album «Our Partisans» at that time, we often listened to it at home.
We talked a lot about Ukrainian history, about the fight against Muscovites, as we sat in the kitchen. There is a forest around our house, my son loves it very much, as well as hiking in the Carpathians. In his free time, he constantly went to the forest and drew maps of hiding places there. He is very practical in running a household. In 2019, he brought bags with exploded rockets and bombs from the Svitlodar arc. It was a pile of iron impossible to lift, and he said he would disinfect them and make mugs to drink beer.
Sometimes I scolded him for constantly going to the forest. I told him to do something sensible, learn languages, but he continued to draw plans for hiding places and study the history of the resistance movement. «Why do you need hiding places? Son, it’s the XXI century, what are the hiding places? What partisans? It’s already in the past!» I told him. I could not believe that after 10 years everything could happen again. And it’s very scary.
Did he participate in the Revolution of Dignity?
- During the Revolution of Dignity, he was still young, 16 years old. Therefore, he went only to the protests in Lviv. But when the shootings started, the two of us went to the Maidan. It’s obvious that this also affected his outlook. We arrived on the second day after the shootings. The Maidan still had the blood of the first Heroes. I showed it to him, and we talked a lot about the Revolution. I am sure that the Maidan finally determined his further fate, there he understood that he would defend Ukraine.
Did you know that your son would serve in «Azov»? Did he prepare for this?
We thought that after the 9th grade, he would enter the Lyceum named after Heroes of Kruty, but he refused. The son said that he did not see himself as a soldier and didn’t take the lyceum seriously. But my friends always said that he was a born warrior. He went to study economics with the condition that he would have the opportunity to change his major if he didn’t like it.
At the age of 20, he decided to go to «Azov». Believe me, I refused as much as I could. I understood how dangerous it was. I understood that Mariupol is, in fact, the front line. I did not want my child to go to the front line and refused him in every way. But he replied that he wants to serve for the good of Ukraine and wants to be really prepared for it. In «Azov», he found professionals and like-minded people.
How often did Yurii get in touch?
- In March, there was no contact with him for about three weeks. Then he was injured. In April, he got a phone somewhere and tried to message me every day. In May, he was unavailable again for a week or two, but he wrote notes, which he then sent. I made screenshots because he wasn’t writing from his phone, and it’s important for me that these correspondences be preserved. Maybe one day, I will publish them for the grandchildren. I had no idea that the words «I love you» could be so painful. I understood that he wrote at night in between shelling and bombing. I read his words: «I love you, I hug you all», and I cry. At that time, they were bombarded there, and every word was a farewell.
Today marks the seventh month of the great war, Ukraine demands the whole world to help liberate the «Azovs». How did you find out about the capture?
- I understood everything when I heard the recordings of Redis [Denys Prokopenko, commander of Azov, Hero of Ukraine]. I dialed my friend and asked if they were really ordered to surrender.
I was shocked, I understood what captivity was and what it would be for the «Azov». The next day, the son got in touch and said that the seriously wounded were taken away, that there are some guarantees, but these guarantees confuse him, so he would rather die in battle. I responded: «This is an order!». He replied that he was still thinking. On May 18, at 6:30 a.m., he wrote that they would come out by the end of the week. The last thing he wrote: «Pray for us daily, because every day, it will be suffering.» I haven’t heard from my son since then.
Do you know in what condition he is now?
- I don’t know anything. He received the first wound on March 5. I saw him limping when he left Azovstal. Later, he wrote that there was a splinter in his leg. I don’t know about other injuries.
Tell us about the support actions you do with the community. Who are they addressed to?
- I appealed and wrote everywhere: both to our authorities and to world leaders, starting from April when the boys started asking for it. After they were «evacuated» to a territory not controlled by Ukraine, we also started writing to all authorities. I wrote on my behalf, on behalf of other parents and relatives, in order to provide us with some information.
Unfortunately, in fact, they did not answer anything to us. To this day, we don’t know where they are, we don’t know what their condition is, and we’ve got no information about what is happening to them and when they will be exchanged.
When they were brought out, certain guarantees were given. All the boys and my son clearly told us about it. They told us not to worry, because in a few months, three or four at the most, they should be released. This is what they were promised. We go to the public actions so that these guarantees are not forgotten. We also appeal to our Ukrainian authorities, we appeal to world leaders and organizations to influence Russia and free the boys. We understand that they can be tortured, they live in inhumane conditions. Therefore, we appeal to the international community and the entire civilized world to adhere to international norms for the maintenance of prisoners of war. Unfortunately, today’s prisoners of war have turned into hostages, I want to emphasize this.
Could you please tell us more about the association you mentioned earlier?
- We have two public associations, the first one is called «Women of Steel». It deals with all prisoners of war, and there are a lot of them since 2014.
There is also the «Association of Families of Defenders of Azovstal». This association unites the families of all the boys and girls who left Azovstal. Kateryna Prokopenko heads it, we communicate through chats and converse. Also, in Lviv, we’ve created our own community. We communicate, go to various events, gather, in particular for coffee, to support each other. We meet once a week, having the same pain, and it’s important for us to talk about it. We also go to different pilgrimages and talk with relatives from other cities.
What will our victory mean to you when we hear that we have won?
- Our victory will be when we feel free to feel ourselves in our state, when we crystallize as a political nation. Unfortunately, we are still just forming. Victory will come when we all understand that the most sacred thing we have is our state. Personally, I am most looking forward to the phone ringing, and I will hear: «Mom, I’m already in Ukraine.» This is what I and our whole family live by.
Here we see drawings with the signature «for uncle Yura from Pavlo»...
- Our entire large family is extremely worried about Yura. They rarely call, because it is difficult to find the words to speak to a mother whose son was on the front line and is now in captivity, but I feel their support. We have an agreement to pray for Yurii every day at a certain hour. And although they call less often, they come to all public actions. I remember how Yura called on Easter. At that time, the «Azov» fighters were very hungry. He said that he would very much like to be with us at the festive table. I say: «Yurchyk, we will not meet tomorrow, because we will meet only when you come. Until then, we can’t have any festive table.» Everything we dedicated, I froze and this Easter bread is waiting to this day. I believe that it will wait for my son to come alive and taste those consecrated gifts, it will be symbolic.
Faith is very important to us. My son wrote to me several times: «I don’t know why I’m alive. Something saved me, something higher, I should have already die several times.» One of his messages was: «Mom, we were bombed all night today and I prayed until half past seven in the morning because I thought my heart was going to stop. When I arrive, the first thing I will do is go to church.» In one of the messages, Yurii wrote: «Mom, don’t worry, it was my choice, and I’m here now so that you can live peacefully there. This is my conscious choice.» I am proud of my son.
Speaker: Marta Baidaka
Text: Roman Tyshchenko-Lamanskyi, Translated by Vitalii Holich
Photo: Volodymyr Panchuk
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