Amid a forest of Ukrainian flags, soldiers honor a fallen comrade with vodka.

Ukrainian soldiers offering a vodka toast at the grave of their platoon commander, Balaban Oleksyi, 38, in the southern city of Kharkiv on Thursday.
Ukrainian soldiers offering a vodka toast at the grave of their platoon commander, Balaban Oleksyi, 38, in the southern city of Kharkiv on Thursday.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Family members of the Ukrainian soldier Roman Vakulenko, 52, at his funeral in Kharkiv on Thursday.
Family members of the Ukrainian soldier Roman Vakulenko, 52, at his funeral in Kharkiv on Thursday.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times
Grave diggers lowered the coffin of Mr. Vakulenko in Kharkiv.
Grave diggers lowered the coffin of Mr. Vakulenko in Kharkiv.Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

KHARKIV, Ukraine — Surrounded by hundreds of blue and gold flags fluttering in the military section of Cemetery 18 in Kharkiv, the soldiers toasted their young platoon commander with glasses of vodka, leaving a third glass, filled to the brim, atop his grave.

One of the soldiers, who declined to give his name, said that the commander, Balaban Oleksyi, 38, had saved his life, rescuing him when he was wounded in combat this summer.

The soldier was still recovering when the commander was killed in July along with 19 other soldiers during fighting near the Russian border in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region. Shrapnel from a tank shell tore through his body.

Now, supporting himself with a cane, the soldier staggered over soft, freshly dug earth toward the commander’s grave.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there to rescue you,” he said, wiping away tears.

That soldier and a comrade, with the nom de guerre Nazar, sat grieving for a few minutes under a gray sky, before piling into a car and pulling away.

Moments later, a dozen people gathered around the open coffin of Roman Vakulenko. He had joined the Ukrainian Army as a volunteer in August, and was killed by a Russian artillery strike on Oct. 25 after being deployed to Bakhmut, a city in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region that has experienced intense fighting.

His wife, Olena Kosenkova, 60, said she had begged him not to volunteer.

New York Times – November 5, 2022

This entry was posted in 1. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s