Ukrainian war volunteer dies in battle far from home

RUDNE, Ukraine – Yurii Brukhal, a commercial electrician, didn’t have a very dangerous role when he volunteered for Ukraine’s territorial defense forces at the start of the war. He is tasked with delivering the goods and having the staff check the relative safety of his peaceful village.

Weeks later, his unit was deployed from his home in the west to the front line in eastern Ukraine, the center of the fiercest fighting against Russian forces. He was killed on June 10.

Andrii Verteev, who worked in a village grocery store, spent the first months of the war guarding a small overpass after work and returning home to his wife and daughter at night. Then he also volunteered to go east. He died in battle in Luhansk, just a few weeks before Mr. Brukhal.

Their deaths caused the war to spread to every community across the country, even those far from the front lines. It also highlights the risks faced by volunteers, with limited training, who are increasingly directed into the kind of battle that challenges even the most experienced soldiers. Their bodies are being returned to fill cemeteries in peaceful cities and towns in the west of the country.

Mr. Brukhal’s sister Vira Datsko, 52, praised her brother’s patriotism: “He will go there to protect us here. “But it is a tragedy for us – very painful – that the best of our nation will die in this war.”

After the war began in February, Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 were banned from leaving the country but not automatically enlisted, and many volunteered to fight. Volunteers of the country’s territorial defense forces, reserve units of the Ukrainian armed forces, were initially assigned safe but ineffective missions in relatively quiet areas such as the region. western Ukraine, where the Russians did not invade. However, the severe loss of manpower in the Donbas region, where Russia is conducting intense bombing and shelling, forced the Ukrainian army to send in reinforcements from the West.

Many of the fighters like Mr. Brukhal, who had no prior military experience, were simply not prepared for that level of escalating combat. And the training they receive is limited – sometimes two weeks or less.

Territorial group volunteers were not forced to redeploy with their unit, but many did, motivated by patriotism or a sense of duty, and perhaps a desire to do not disappoint their teammates. And though they knew it would be terrible on the front, there was little to prepare them for the violence of front-line fighting, the veterans said.

Colonel Valeriy Kurko, commander of the 103rd brigade defending the territory where Brukhal served, said: “These are peacemakers who come from peaceful territories.

Colonel Kurko said that most of his team members had never served in the military. The notion that people can take action when war approaches is wrong, he said. By then, it was too late.

His brigade, currently stationed in eastern Donetsk, consists of men from the Lviv region of western Ukraine. Colonel Kurko said several of the men had died in the past month, with at least three being buried in Lviv in early June.

Despite the limited time, they received basic skills and training, he said, but acknowledged that the morale of the unit had certainly changed.

“I will not hide from you the fact that some people are not ready to leave the territory of their region,” he said in an interview, but added that no soldiers from his brigade refused to go home. east.

He acknowledged that the relentless shelling was “a challenge not everyone can cope with” and added that some families have asked why their husbands and sons have been asked to deploy outside. their homeland without training.

Efforts to move more territorial troops with limited training eastward have devastated some units.

A territorial defense company, consisting of 100 soldiers from across Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, suffered 30% losses on its first day of operations on the eastern front, around the town of Bakhmut in late spring, according to the soldiers of this unit.

An unnamed soldier spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive topics. “And here we ended up on the front lines, as infantry sitting in the trenches,” he said.

The accounts of half a dozen territorial defenders interviewed for this article are largely the same: They were trained as honor guards in the early months of the war and then, when there were casualties, sent. to the front.

The Kyiv unit was also selected to go east, and these men were soon enlisted in a regular Ukrainian army unit. Soldiers defending the territory said they only had rifles, machine guns and a few anti-tank weapons supplied by the West.

They lacked one weapon that had shaped the war in recent months – artillery. They also have very few ways to communicate with those heavily armed units.

In short, soldiers, they were mostly alone.

“We’re being torn to pieces, people are falling like flies, and why are we here?” said the soldier. “It is not clear.”

These types of implementations are already starting to attract small demonstration were the wives, mothers and daughters of some of the dead expressing their grievances.

But others, like Mr Brukhal’s family, said they supported the family members’ decision despite their grief.

Before going to war, Mr. Brukhal built a home for his two daughters. At the memorial service two weeks after his death, villagers gathered to pray around a long table inside the house, the old block walls still exposed, a plate of food in front of the house. face.

Datsko, his sister, said it was the first meal in the still-unfinished house.

“It’s horrible when you see what’s going on in the cemetery, and you don’t know when it’s going to stop,” she said, reflecting on the new rows of graves that have appeared in Lviv’s military cemetery since. while burying her brother. “We’re going to have a lot of unmarried women and fatherless children.”

Oksana Stepanenko, 44, is also dealing with grief, along with her daughter Mariia, 8. Her husband, Andrii Verteev, was killed on May 15.

Like Mr. Brukhal, he was a volunteer, tasked with guarding an overpass in the street during the early weeks of the war. He later joined an army air defense unit and was redeployed to the east.

His death added a new level of pain to the family. Stepanenko’s son, Artur, died of an illness at the age of 13 three years ago. Now, a corner of their small living room has become a shrine room for the boy and his father.

Stepanenko said she finds solace in her faith and the fact that going to the frontline was her husband’s choice. But, like so many others in Ukraine, she asked, “How many people must die before this is over?”

Despite the losses, the families of fighters sent to the east said they see it as their patriotic duty to defend their homeland.

Natalia Rebryk, 39, who married her husband, Anton Tyrgin, just three months before the Russian invasion, said she naively thought she wouldn’t have any personal connection to the war.

“This fight started twice for me,” Ms. Rebryk said. “The first time it started was the day of the invasion, and the second time was when Anton joined the army.”

Mr. Tyrgin worked in the music industry before the war and had no military background when he volunteered for the Ukrainian National Guard. He spent the early weeks of the conflict defending strategic locations, but in early June his unit was informed that it could also be sent east.

Ms Rebryk said she was worried he wasn’t properly trained and that she braced herself daily for a call she hoped would never come.

“We expected it to be over in two or three weeks. Then in two or three weeks,” she said. “When you talk to the soldiers, you realize that it probably won’t end this year.”

In Rudne, far from the chaos, destruction and death of the front lines, the cruelty of war sometimes seems far away. While the air raid sirens still sounded, it had been months since they had sent people scrambling for shelter.

But funerals for men like Mr Brukhal are surprisingly close, and others from the small community of Rudne are still fighting in the east.

His daughter, 13-year-old Yordana Brukhal, said her father felt it was his responsibility to join the war, even though he was her primary caregiver after separating from her mother last year.

“Until recently, I felt this fight was only mental, not physical,” she said. “And since my father passed away, I feel it physically, too.”

Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Natalia Yermak Reporting contributions from Druzhkivka, Ukraine.

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