Russian mortars exploded a day and tens of kilometers apart, and tore apart two men who had traveled more than 1,000 km from western Ukraine to defend the region’s plains and industrial towns Eastern Donbass which are now in Moscow’s crosshairs.
One of the men, who goes by the nom de guerre Lapat, hopes to return to the front within a month once his injuries have healed. The other, Ivan Myno, was buried this week in a closed coffin in the village where he grew up in the Carpathian Mountains.
Myno graduated as a dentist last year and planned to marry Yaryna Chuchman this summer. They had talked about having a family and opening a guest house in the mountains, perhaps with a studio where she and other tattoo artists could work.
Now Chuchman says she is a widow at 22, she wears Myno’s thick jacket to feel close to him on a cold spring day in her hometown of Lviv, and she has taken up smoking to soothe her nerves and because it makes her hands smell like hers.
“Before, I loved war films. My favorite was called Indivisible. It’s about a hero coming back from war and how he’s changed psychologically,” Chuchman says.
“But he and his wife coped. We watched it and Ivan really liked it, and I said we’d get through it too. But they are the two main characters of the film. There were others whose husbands did not return from the war, but I never imagined myself in their place.
Chuchman graduated from business school two days before Russia launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine before dawn on February 24. Hours later, she was at home in Lviv when a call notice arrived for her father Mykhailo, who is an electrician.
He had fought the Russian-led separatist militia in the Donbass during a war that started in 2014 and “he came back different. I didn’t want him to change any more,” she recalls.
“So I hid my father’s appeal papers. Then I phoned Ivan to ask him if I had done the right thing, and he told me that if he was drafted into the army, he would leave.
In the end, neither man needed to be summoned to fight in a war that it immediately became clear would decide whether Ukraine continued to exist as a sovereign nation or became a vassal of the Kremlin. .
Chuchman’s father came home on the first day of the war and, without even receiving his papers, began packing for the front. A few days later, Myno (28) signed up.
After about two weeks at the Yavoriv base near Lviv, he was sent to a location near the southern city of Mykolaiv for basic training.
Chuchman says she believed her prayers for Ivan were working: he was moved from Yavoriv two days before a Russian missile strike killed 35 people, and near Mykolaiv there were not enough helmets and bulletproof vests for everyone.
“We joked that they were coming so slowly that they had to deliver them by bike. And I was so happy it took so long because they couldn’t go to the front without bulletproof vests and helmets. But eventually they came.
On April 1, Myno was in the frontline village of Kalynove in the Donetsk region. He told Chuchman he was too busy to talk, so they texted instead.
“The air raid siren went off in Lviv so I told him I had made sandwiches and tea and was going to sit in the hallway,” away from windows that could shatter in the event of a storm. ‘blast.
“He told me to eat and stay safe.”
Lapat, who lives in Khodoriv, a town an hour’s drive from Lviv, was now in Popasna, about 85 km northeast of Myno.
The factory worker, who was mobilized in 2015, went to the army enlistment office on the first morning of the Russian invasion and within a fortnight he was near the front line.
“I think it was March 8 – I’m not sure, time passes differently there – that I received my ‘baptism of war’. The Russians used everything – artillery, rockets, helicopters, everything. When you see this for the first time, your only reaction is to pray, they can take everything from us except our faith.
At the beginning of April, Lapat was in Popasna and exchanged fire with the Russians.
“You could see their positions. They would fire artillery in preparation, then the infantry would move on,” he recalls, sitting on a sunny bench outside a sanatorium in the spa town of Truskavets, where he and others wounded soldiers are recovering.
“We can definitely beat them – the Russians are afraid to fight! During their first attack [on his position] we just shot them. If their commander had known there were only six of us, he would have committed suicide. We hit them so hard they ran as fast as they could,” he said, smiling between puffs of his cigarette.
“We know what we are fighting for, when they send people here to kill for no reason.”
Chuchman messaged Ivan on April 2 with a photo of a client’s tattoo that read, “I love ZSU” – the acronym for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
Body on the battlefield
“That evening, as I was finishing my work, I double-checked my texts and he still hadn’t seen it. But there was a message from a soldier asking, “What is your relationship with Ivan Myno?” Then I knew something was wrong.
“I went home and started to pray. I prayed that he had just been captured or injured. But later I got another message: “I’m sorry, there was a mortar attack and Ivan is no longer with us.”
He died near the industrial town of Avdiivka, in what the soldiers described as “hell” fighting in Chuchman.
“It was so bad that they couldn’t remove his body from the battlefield. But my father knew where to look and asked the soldiers to go there. He was found on April 10.
Myno’s remains were brought back to Lviv five days later and his brothers identified him.
“I could have done it but I didn’t want to remember him like that,” Chuchman says, looking at pictures of Ivan on his phone that show his appendix scar and birthmark, which could have been used. to facilitate identification.
“Who would have thought that maybe I should use these photos for this,” she says.
Myno was buried in his village of Libokhora on Monday, after a service at the historic garrison Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Lviv was nearly canceled after four Russian missiles hit the town, killing seven and injuring a dozen others; Chuchman saw black plumes of smoke from the attack as she drove to the morgue to retrieve Ivan’s body.
“When we were going from Lviv to the village, I received text messages from strangers asking me when we would drive through this or that place,” Chuchman recalls.
“A lot of people knelt on the side of the road in the falling snow as we passed. They came out to honor a hero. I was in the car with Ivan, and I turned around and said, “Sweetheart, we’re going back to the mountain. He was always so happy there and I felt good wherever I was with him.
The day after Myno died, a Russian mortar exploded near Lapat in Popasna.
Explosion and blood
“There was an explosion and when I opened my eyes I saw nothing but blood. There was a boy born in 1999, only two years older than my son, who grabbed me by my bulletproof vest and dragged me to the shelter.Then they took me into a basement and patched me up.
Lapat says shrapnel shattered his nose, went through his left arm, lodged in his right arm and cheek, and broke his fingers on his right hand. He underwent several operations to repair the damage and says he hopes to return to the army in a month.
“I need some more gibberish treatment – ‘rehabilitation’ – and then I’ll start fighting ‘katsapy’ again,” he says, using a pejorative term for Russians.
“A few days after my evacuation, I heard that the nine men in our unit had been injured. They said the Russians brought in a tank and it was hell.
Lapat says his three children are worried about him, but he “has no choice” but to fight and Ukraine has “nowhere to retreat”.
“It’s up to us. If I don’t, my son will have to fight.
Chuchman says Myno’s love for Ukraine, its music and its mountains, has made her much more patriotic and now inspires her art and tattoo work.
“Every morning when Ivan woke up, he would put Ukrainian music on full blast,” she recalls.
“He was a very good singer. On the way to his brother’s wedding, I was lying on his lap and he sang Ukrainian songs to me. He promised that he would also sing at our wedding.