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“Without this war, Dad would have lived to be 100 years old.” Five short stories of senior Ukrainians killed by Russia

Russia’s war against Ukraine continues to take a heavy toll on the elderly population. Many have lost their homes, their families, and their hope for a peaceful retirement. For some, the war has taken their lives. Here are the stories of Ukrainian elderly people who were killed by Russia at the end of their years.

This text was prepared by the Memorial Memory Platform that tells the stories of the Ukrainian military and civilians killed by Russia.

Yaroslav Melnyk, 82 years old

Yaroslav Melnyk was killed on September 18, 2022, in the village of Volfyne in the Sumy region. Around 18:00, the Russian military began shelling the village with mortars: fifty mines fell in Volfyne. Yaroslav and his wife were at home at the time. The elderly man was sitting on his bed when one of the fragments flew in through the window and hit him in the head.

His wife, Valentyna Melnyk, recalls: “When the shelling started, I immediately fell on the floor and prayed to God to let it pass us by. I begged my husband to move away from the window, but he only repeated that he was not afraid. Before I knew it, the windows in the house flew out. I cried: “Slavik, Slavik” (ed. – short from Yaroslav). Then I saw a pool of blood…”

Valentyna lived with Yaroslav for 58 years.

Yaroslav Melnyk was born in Turka, the Lviv region. First, he worked on a collective forest farm. In 1966, Yaroslav and Valentyna moved to Sumy, where the man occupied several positions over the years he was an accountant, a picker, and a welder. In retirement, the couple began spending more time in the village of Volfyne: Valentyna’s family once lived there. The couple kept their own little farm in the village: a goat and a dozen chickens. 

After the tragedy, the woman gave the animals to a friend as it is difficult for her to take care of them alone without her husband.

“My Slavik was such a master that he could tile the house, change the pipes, and install windows himself. He was a good host. He loved to go mushroom hunting. Even though he had a hot temper, I never knew sorrow with him,” says Valentyna.

Yaroslav Melnyk is survived by his wife, two sons, sister. And his grandson who went to the frontline to defend Ukraine.

Vira Tkachova, 81 years old

Vira Tkachova was killed on June 5, 2022, in the village of Chornohlazivka in the Kharkiv region. An enemy cluster projectile exploded next to her. The elderly woman received numerous shrapnel wounds.

“Before the shelling, my mother went to the summer kitchen, got ears of wheat from the chest, and went out into the yard to feed the chickens. That’s when everything happened. All her life, our mother was very hardworking and even died with ears of wheat in her hands,” says Vira’s son, Henadii.

Vira Tkachova was born in the Kharkiv region. This was the second war in her life: as a child, she survived World War II and the German occupation. When the Nazis were driven out of her native village, Vira and her family took shelter from shelling in a cellar. One of the shells pierced the front door and fell nearby, but did no damage.

“Auntie Vira was convinced that enemy shrapnel would bypass her. Twice since the start of the full-scale war, she miraculously managed to avoid death. One day, she was in the garden when the shelling of the village started. As she was running to the cellar to hide, the only thing she could hear was whistling overhead. The second time, she and her husband were in the house: the windows were blown out by the shells, and the roof was damaged. One of the fragments flew inside and got stuck in the furniture,” says Maryna Tantsiura, Vira’s neighbor.

Vira Tkachova worked at a briquette factory for 40 years. Her colleague and friend Olha Tyshchenko remembers Vira as a kind, gentle, loving, absolutely non-conflicting person. Her neighbor Maryna adds: “Despite her advanced age, Vira never sat idle for a minute, she was always doing something: sometimes in the garden, sometimes in the house.”

Vira Tkachova is survived by her husband, their son and daughter with their families.

Nadiia Vaisman, 76 years old

Nadiia Vaisman died on June 18, 2022, in Lymany, the Mykolaiv region. The retired woman was planting flowers in the center of the village when the Russian troops started the shelling. Nadiia did not have time to hide. A shell exploded next to her.

Nadiia Vaisman was from the village of Novomykolaivka, the Zaporizhzhia region. She graduated from the Zaporizhia National University majoring in physics and mathematics. In 1980, Nadiia was offered a job at a school in Lymany and moved there with her family. Over time, she became a head teacher, and later – a director of the local school.

After retiring, Nadiia joined the choir in the village cultural center and often took part in performances. During the full-scale war, she helped make Lymany greener and sort humanitarian aid.

“Mom had a character of steel and, at the same time, she was kind. She could not ignore someone else’s grief. She always tried to help and support everyone. That’s the way she was – caring. Professionally, she remained demanding of herself and other people. Mom did not live barely a month to see her birthday. She would have been 77 years old,” says her daughter Oksana.

Nadiia Veisman is survived by two daughters and two grandchildren.

Zinaida Safonova, 86 years old

Zinaida Safonova died on May 30, 2022, in the village of Lozove near Lyman, the Donetsk region. The elderly woman’s heart stopped when the Russian military started firing from the “Grad” rocket launcher set up near.

“She was so scared… And she died. They killed her,”  says Zinaida’s grandson, Serhii Syzoniuk.

Zinaida Safonova was born and spent her whole life in Lozove, working in agriculture. Her childhood was marked by World War II. 

“A Soviet plane dropped a bomb on the village where Romanian troops were stationed at the time. Just like now, they bombed civilians. My grandmother was wounded in the leg, it was a miracle that she did not lose it,” says her grandson.

Serhii remembers Granny Zinaida as a very kind person. She is survived by her children and grandchildren.

Mykola Mamchur, 80 years old

Mykola Mamchur was shot by Russian soldiers on February 25, 2022, in Hostomel near Kyiv. His house was located near the bridge over the Irpin River, which had been blown up to prevent the enemy from advancing on Kyiv.

Mykola’s wife was staying with her family at the time. Their son Dmytro and his family were home: they went down to the basement on February 25, after the bridge had been blown up. Constant shelling continued, and the family stayed in the basement until February 28.

“We were waiting for my father, but he did not come. We couldn’t go outside, it was dangerous. Shells exploded both in the yard and in the air. Military equipment was burning. We hoped that father had time to run, maybe to a neighbor or to his brother, who lives nearby. We thought he would stay there and then come, but when he didn’t show up by the evening we realized that something had happened,” says Dmytro Mamchur.

Mykola Mamchur’s body was found near his yard on February 28.

Mykola Mamchur grew up in a family of native residents of Hostomel. His mother lived here until she was 98 years old, and her sister turned 106. Before retirement, Mykola worked at the “Vetropak” glass factory. He was an energetic person. He liked to travel, go fishing, and do mushroom hunting.

“He took me everywhere for sightseeing. We just got into the car and drove somewhere. One of the first of our trips was to Kaniv to the Taras Shevchenko Museum. We traveled all over Ukraine, visited Moldova and Brest. Father loved nature. He worked in the garden until the end. He was a kind and sensitive person. He was very robust for his age. No one believed that he was already 80. He often rode a bicycle. If it weren’t for this war, dad would have lived to be 100 years old,” Dmytro says.

Mykola Mamchur is survived by his wife, son, and two grandchildren.