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Stories of people with disabilities whose lives were taken by war

Russia launched its full-scale war against Ukraine more than two years ago, creating both a humanitarian crisis in many regions and a direct threat to civilian life and health. The terrorist state brought grief, suffering, and destruction to Ukrainian society, and the wartime realities have been especially brutal for vulnerable groups. 

These are the stories of people with disabilities who were killed by Russians and the man-made disasters they brought to Ukraine.

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

“I asked my son not to go anywhere. He promised…”
Mykola Kucheryna, 38 years old

Mykola Kucheryna.
Photo from the archives of Mykola’s relatives

Mykola Kucheryna was born in the village of Nova Basan, the Chernihiv region, bordering Russia in the north of Ukraine. He attended the local school until the 6th grade, then continued studying at home. Mykola lived with his parents all of his life. He had never worked but helped his parents and neighbors with household chores and received a pension due to his disability.

“Kolia [short from Mykola – ed.] was very curious. He was interested in technology and knew all the car brands. He loved walking around the village and observing everything. He had many friends,” said his mother, Nataliia.

On February 28, 2022, Russian forces occupied the village of Nova Basan. 

Nataliia recalls: “The first convoy entered the village around 9 a.m. We were all hiding in the cellar. Then it became quiet, so we went out. I went to cook some food, and Kolia was in the yard. Some family members stayed in the cellar. I asked my son not to go anywhere. He promised…”

Mykola sneaked out of the yard and headed to another part of the village. Unaware of the danger, he went to see the enemy military equipment. Upon seeing him, Russian occupiers opened fire.

Natalia’s husband told her over the phone that Mykola was killed. He and their younger son tried twice to retrieve the body, but Russian occupiers did not allow it. The killed villager was left under the open sky for over a month until the Armed Forces of Ukraine liberated the village.

“I had a very good child. If someone got sick on the street, he would bring water… He was so sensitive… My son loved life very much,” Nataliia said.

“She remained forever in her beloved home.”
Larysa Dreval, 88 years old

Larysa Dreval.
Photo from the archives of Larysa’s relatives

Larysa Dreval was born in Mariupol, the Donetsk region. She graduated from the Kherson State Agrarian and Economic University. For over 20 years, she worked as the Head of the chemical laboratory at the melon growing station in Hola Prystan, the Kherson region, where she settled. She loved her family and her home, which was always immersed in flowers.

“In my mother’s house, there was peace and calmness. She was unmatched when it came to making Ukrainian borscht, syrnyky (cheese pancakes), sauces, and dumplings with cherries, strawberries, cheese, or potatoes. It was simply a masterpiece! My mother loved her beautiful country house. Everything grew, bloomed, and bore fruit there,” said Larysa’s daughter, Olha Yakovenko.

In the last years of her life, Larysa nearly lost the ability to walk. The woman tried to manage on her own, although her children had hired a helper.

Larysa’s daughter and grandchildren visited her two to three times a year.

“I used to take my mother in her wheelchair to our blossoming waterfront. She would chat with acquaintances, observe people, and watch the sunset. And she would always say, ‘How beautiful our Hola Prystan is!’

“After my father’s death, for 30 years, my mother was the center of our family, our protector. She was a mentor, advisor, and helper. At 88, she felt young. She was very beautiful and warmly welcomed guests. She read a lot and had a wonderful memory. Her energy could have lasted for more years, but…” said her daughter.

Larysa Dreval drowned on June 7, 2023, in her own home on Heroes Street in the city of Hola Prystan, which was occupied after the start of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine.

The water level in Hola Prystan rose rapidly after Russian forces blew up the dam of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant the day before. According to her daughter, a neighbor tried to save Larysa, but Russian occupiers did not allow it.

“She remained forever in her beloved home, among her favorite things and photographs, on her couch. Her body was found on the tenth day after the flood… They took away from us a dear person and our beloved home. They took away our native city! Our grief knows no bounds! Such things are unforgivable,” said Olha.

“She needed to move to warm up even a bit, but she could not.”
Hanna Ksenofontova, 84 years old

Hanna Ksenofontova.
Photo from the archives of Hanna’s relatives

Hanna was born and lived in Mariupol, the Donetsk region. Before retiring in the last years of her life, she worked as a seamstress. Hanna’s relatives remember her as kind-hearted, full of life, and always smiling.

“After visiting grandma, I often came back with a new skirt, for example… My mom always told me that out of all the relatives, I resemble grandma Hanna the most,” said Kateryna Samoilenko, her granddaughter.

Hanna had heart failure. She moved around with a walker, and later, she became very weak and bedridden.

In Hanna’s final years, she was cared for by her niece Lidiia. The woman stayed with Hanna in Mariupol during the full-scale Russian invasion.

Due to constant shelling, the windows in Hanna’s apartment were blown out. It became very cold inside. To warm up even a little, the woman needed to move, but she could not. Hanna hardly ate or drank. On April 1, 2022, she froze to death.

“For some time after the invasion began, my son and I were abroad; I was searching for information about relatives. Only in April Aunt Lidiia get in touch again, and that’s when I found out that grandma had passed away, frozen to death,” said Kateryna.

Initially, Hanna Ksenofontova was buried near her home, but later, the woman’s grave was relocated.

“Died in his own home, hit by shells.”
Mykola Kolosovskyi, 59 years old

Mykola Kolosovskyi.
Photo from the archives of Mykola’s relatives

Mykola was born in the Kyiv region. He worked as a forester in the Pershotravneve Forestry of the village of Moshun. Mykola loved his job and enjoyed his hobby – hunting.

At the age of 54, Mykola had a stroke and became bedridden.

“At the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion, he couldn’t even grasp what was happening. I left the village on the night of February 25, taking two small children, my mother, and my younger sister, who was 17 then, with me,” said Olha, Mykola’s daughter.

“My husband stayed. He went to my father and brought him medicine and food. Dad lived nearby. He strongly refused to be relocated anywhere.”

Mykola Kolosovskyi died in the village of Moshun around midnight on March 11, 2022, as Russian forces were attempting to break through the defense line of the Armed Forces of Ukraine near Kyiv. Several Russian shells hit Mykola’s house. A 59-year-old man had no chance to escape from the burning place.