To News and Stories
In wartime Stories

The stories of two volunteer drivers who deliver the bodies of fallen Ukrainian soldiers to their families

Drivers of the humanitarian project of the Armed Forces of Ukraine “On the Shield” and the public organization “Buldozer” transport the bodies of fallen Ukrainian defenders. They do their work on a voluntary basis and cover the cars’ maintenance with donations from people.

Suspilne media told the stories of two Ukrainian volunteer drivers, Oleh and Vitalii, who joined the humanitarian initiative of the Armed Forces of Ukraine after Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Volunteer Oleh Smetanin.
Photo: Suspilne Dnipro / Yurii Tynnyi

Before the war, Oleh Smetanin was the head of an independent trade union at a factory and worked in a warehouse.

After the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Oleh went to the military enlistment office to join the Armed Forces, but he was rejected due to health problems. Shortly after, he found out about the humanitarian initiative “On the Shield,” which needed volunteer drivers, and decided to join.

“I go to one city, then to another city (…) A thousand, one and a half thousand, two thousand kilometers, to deliver the guys [fallen Ukrainian defenders – ed.] to their homes. Everyone is awaited, they [relatives – ed.] call for each one,” says Oleh.

When he transports the bodies of fallen Ukrainian soldiers, Oleh tries not to look at their medical documents due to the fear of seeing the familiar names.

“I rarely look at medical documents because I don’t want to find my friends there. When you take a look, and there’s a guy or girl born in the 1990s-2000s, young enough to be my child. I don’t want to look,” explains Oleh.

The humanitarian initiative operates through charitable contributions from Ukrainian citizens. “The vehicles need repairs. Almost every month, I replace the oil. A high mileage needs to be covered, too,” Oleh shares about his work.

As the volunteer driver points out, this job is not for everyone, and a person who takes it on must be prepared psychologically.

“Maybe for someone, it’s the first time seeing [dead bodies – ed.], and it’s scary (…) When you understand where you’re going, you must be ready for it (…) People are not afraid of the dead; they’re afraid of death,” says Oleh.

The man is determined to continue working as a volunteer “as long as needed”. After the war, Oleh wants to return to his warehouse job.

Volunteer Vitalii Maksymenko.
Photo: Suspilne Dnipro / Yurii Tynnyi

Vitalii Maksymenko also works as a volunteer driver. The man is from Lyman, the Donetsk region. Russian forces temporarily occupied this Ukrainian city for more than four months before Ukrainian defenders liberated Lyman in October 2022.

Before Russia’s war, Vitalii was an entrepreneur and had few businesses. “I was an entrepreneur, and I remain one. But my business was looted and torn apart. There was a construction store, a service station, a car wash,” the volunteer driver says.

Vitalii has been working on the humanitarian project “On the Shield” for a year now. “Everyone has some mission in life. In this situation, someone defends our land, there are guys in the trenches with weapons in hand. And we help our country in this way as much as we can,” explains Vitalii.

According to him, the hardest part of his work is seeing how people welcome the fallen warriors in their hometown or village. “The hardest part is when you enter a city, and a corridor of honor awaits you, with people on their knees welcoming the hero who died defending the country,” says the man.

After Ukraine’s victory in the war, Vitalii wants to restore and further develop his businesses.