Illustration photo – Funeral of a Ukrainian soldier in Kyiv, January 8, 2023.
Kyiv/Prague – The Ukrainian Memorial Platform website details the specific fates of people whose lives were claimed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It began last year on February 24 and, according to estimates, cost the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians. We want to humanize terrible numbers – to say that it is not statistical figures that are dying, but real people with dreams and hopes that will never come true, Anastasija Abramecová, editor-in-chief of the project, said in an interview with ČTK. Currently, according to her, there are around 2,000 obituaries of fallen Ukrainian soldiers and killed civilians, including children, on the website.
Photo gallery: Russian invasion of Ukraine
“Artem Kornichuk. One year and seven months. Kryvyj Rih,” reads one of them, accompanied by a black-and-white photo of a smiling boy. After clicking on the link, the date 16 December 2022 will appear next to Artem's name. That is, the day he died in Kryvyi Rih. “The Russian rocket turned the entire entrance, where his family's apartment was, into rubble. Artemko and his mother Lyudmila died instantly. His dad, 30-year-old Oleksandr, died in the hospital,” reports the website, according to which only Artemko's seven-year-old brother Maksym survived from the family, who was at grandma's.
“After the start of the full-scale Russian invasion, Lyudmila and her sons went to Poland, while Oleksandr remained in Kryvyi Rih. The sons were very sad for their father. This period was also difficult for Oleksandr. In August, the family was reunited,” the obituary further states, where relatives of the family they also mention that the Kornichuks always went to shelter when there was an air raid alarm. “We don't understand why they stayed in the apartment then,” said the uncle of the father of the family, Jaroslav Kornijčuk.
Arina Kravchenkova. Three years. Izum. According to the website, Russian shelling ended her life. “Almost her entire family was also killed on March 9, 2022: mom and dad, two older brothers aged 10 and 14, grandmother and a ninety-six-year-old great-grandmother. Miraculously, only grandfather survived,” reads the obituary, according to which Arina and her family shelling, she hid in a shelter in the house where her grandparents lived. “Little Arina was buried in a common grave with her brothers and parents,” the obituary notes, among other things.
Venedykt Vasylkov, 17 years old, Mariupol…
“We have already collected more stories about children than a hundred. And that's the worst thing about this job for me,” Abramecová confided. She is particularly touched by the fates of the murdered children. “Maybe because I'm the mother of a six-year-old boy and I can't even imagine how parents whose children have died feel,” says Abramecová, who also draws attention to the fate of senior citizens.
“Pensions are still very low in Ukraine, and our pensioners cannot enjoy rest like, for example, Europeans. When I was abroad, I looked at pensioners there with glasses of wine on the coast and imagined that it would be the same for ours,” she says a thirty-one-year-old journalist and adds that after Russian troops invaded Ukraine, the life of the elderly there became unbearable. “It's harder for them to leave, they have a great fear of the unknown and they don't have a financial cushion. They often become victims of shelling. Their lives end in fear and among the ruins,” he describes. At the same time, she emphasizes that she does not like to single out anyone and that the goal of the project is to preserve the memory of all the victims of the Russian invasion.
No one knows exactly how many people died in the war that Moscow unleashed in Ukraine last year. Estimates speak of tens of thousands of dead among civilians and soldiers. As of mid-February this year, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) confirmed nearly 7,200 Ukrainian civilians killed, including more than 430 children. Ukrainian authorities put the numbers slightly higher, and everyone cautions that the true toll is likely to be significantly higher, as fighting continues in many regions and it is impossible to ascertain all the dead in Russian-occupied territories. The Ukrainian army does not publish the numbers of fallen soldiers.
According to its head, the Memorial memory platform commemorates the fates of approximately two thousand victims of Russian military aggression. “Overall, there are many more names in the database, but they are not final,” says Abramecová, whose team publishes several more obituaries each day to highlight each victim one by one. “Our goal is a radical departure from the Soviet practice of memorials to nameless soldiers. Our soldiers have names and our civilian victims should not be forgotten,” the journalist adds.
The team working on the project, which was founded by the Ukrainian media agency Abo and whose operation, according to its boss, is mainly made possible by grants, uses several methods to collect information about fallen Ukrainians. One of them is that relatives of victims fill out forms on the website, Abramecová explains, adding that the information is then double-verified. According to her, the team also obtains the materials for some obituaries in the field or communicates with the relatives of the victims by phone or by writing to them. “Our partners are some media and we use their work so as not to traumatize the victims' relatives with the same questions that have already been asked,” he notes.
The obituaries, which the organization also publishes in English on Twitter, are relatively short. “However, we try to tell about a person in various social roles, not only about the circumstances of death. We tell what he did, how he rested, what his contribution to society was, what he dreamed about,” the journalist adds, pointing out that obituaries are only part of the work twenty-member team. Among other things, he writes articles for Ukrainian and foreign media such as Ukrainska Pravda or Radio Svoboda and works on documentary films whose protagonists are relatives of the victims.
“It is important to talk not only about the dead, but also about thousands of Ukrainians, who have experienced a loss and have to live with it. We should all learn to perceive and support them correctly. This trauma will be in Ukrainian society for decades,” believes the project leader. According to her, it sets itself the task of collecting as many stories as possible of the victims of the Russian invasion, acting as a database for journalists, human rights activists or documentarians, contributing to the public debate and looking for optimal options for building a strong institution of national memory.