Erika, 20, lost her husband at the front, as did Daryna, 21. Katia’s fiancé, 22, also died in combat. The Russian invasion of Ukraine leaves widows whose adult lives have only just begun.
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Erika Martyniouk and Saveliy Fedan, 21, were married in February, a day before the young man, a student at the Odessa military academy, left for the front.
Like many other Ukrainians, it was the Russian invasion that pushed them to formalize their relationship.
“We were afraid of getting lost,” explains Erika, a chemistry student in kyiv. Since then, the couple has only spent five days together.
Saveliy, commander of a unit of the 46th Assault Brigade, escaped the bloody battle of Bakhmut alive, but was killed on August 27 in the Zaporizhia region. Disfigured, he was identified by the tattoos on him.
“When I saw his photos in the Zaporizhzhia morgue, it was as if I had died too,” says the young woman, dressed in a black T-shirt with the inscription “be a warrior, live forever,” a gift from her husband. . “I no longer have a goal, no more dreams.”
She continues to message him every day and wants to become a paramedic on the front lines.
“Maybe I could save someone else,” hopes Erika, whose careful makeup contrasts with her husband’s military bag on his shoulder that he always carries with him.
The relatively quiet life in kyiv drives her “crazy”: “people walk, laugh and talk about the nights. And I’m going to the cemetery.
Ukraine does not reveal the number of soldiers who fell on the front or their ages.
But according to Oksana Borkoune, co-founder of an association of women who have lost their husbands or partners, 7% of the approximately 2,000 members of her Facebook community are between 18 and 24 years old.
These young women plunge “into total despair,” says Borkoune.
“Older women have children, chores to do, a job. Something they can hold on to (…) Young women completely collapse,” some end up being hospitalized, she explains.
And those close to them sometimes lack tact when trying to comfort them. “They tell them things like ‘you’re still young, you’ll find someone else,'” or even push them to “meet someone,” Borkoune says. Result: the young widows withdraw into themselves.
For Erika, the only people who really understand her are two other young women who lost their companions at the front and who do not try to reassure her. “They say unequivocally, ‘no, it won’t work, you will continue to suffer for a long time and you won’t know what to do,'” she says.
Daryna, another young widow, admits to “having a lot of difficulty maintaining social contacts,” except at the school where she teaches English.
Student of Japanese philology, Igor Voïevodine, nom de guerre of Stitch -after an alien from a Disney movie-, became a sniper in the Azov brigade of the Ukrainian National Guard at the age of 20 after the start of the Russian invasion, despite his family’s decision. he tries to dissuade him. He died on August 20, less than a month after the wedding.
Daryna buried him, took his last name, and got a tattoo of Stitch.
But she still can’t accept his death.
“I keep thinking he’s just busy and will be back soon,” says this long-haired young woman, hiding her trembling hands.
He committed to achieving the dreams they had together: a high-end car and a house by the sea.
For Serguiï Kvit, president of the prestigious Mohyla Academy university in Kiev, from which at least five students fell on the front, these young Ukrainians are fighting for “dignity and justice” and “are building” the future of their country.
“This war is a very hard blow for our generation,” says Daryna. “After the war we are going to have a lot of problems, because the best, the most motivated, will have been killed.”
“A lot of guys die and nothing changes. How much longer will this last? Erika asks, through tears.
While she talks to an AFP team in a kyiv park, her friend Katia is waiting for her. Her fiancé died in combat two days ago. The next day, the two young women will attend her funeral.