SAINTS




War doesn’t knock on your door asking if it can come in, it’s not warning you what will happen to your life, your family the life of your community, your village or town or your country. It won’t tell you what your future will look like. It knocks everything out; it takes everything away from you w ithout warning, and it gives in return one thing - a chance for you to fight back.

Ukrainians chose to fight back. Starting February 24th, 2022, millions of people in Ukraine have resisted the invasion of their country by Russia. Some streamed towards new front lines that stretched hundreds of kilometers on sea, land, and air, and some have chosen to dedicate their skills, whatever they might be, to help the country resist.

This is a book about the personal sacrifice of people who chose to resist this brutal and barbaric invasion, happening in Europe in the 21st century as the whole World keeps watching. This is a series about godless sainthood.

Serhii Volynskyi, call sign Volyna, 31



 

Yuliia Payevska, call sign Taira, 54



Yuliia is from Kyiv. Before 2014, she was an Aikido instructor and worked as a graphic designer for magazines, newspapers, and book publishers. During the Euromaidan protests, she volunteered as a medic and later taught tactical medicine. When the war broke out, she started bringing equipment to set up stabilization points on the front lines. Later, she traveled to the Donbas region to teach medicine and realized she needed to work as a tactical medic rather than to instruct others. She gradually gathered a team that later adopted the name of Taira's Angels. She had a two-year contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In total, she has spent eight years on the front lines. In the last year before the full-scale invasion, she was preparing for the Invictus Games. Starting from February 24th, she worked in a hospital in Mariupol. "I knew that Mariupol was doomed — it was obvious from the beginning. I just tried to be as helpful as possible to as many people as possible." She evacuated women and children from the basements of the hospital, where they were hiding from shelling. She put everyone in a bus and left. The Russians stopped the bus at one of the checkpoints. They checked their documents, saw the surnames, and after a few minutes, they said, "You – meaning Yuliia – get off the bus." That's how she ended up in captivity. About her time as a prisoner, Yuliia says only one thing: "It's a fucking hell, pardon my language." She spent three months in Russian penal colonies and was exchanged during a prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia in June 2022. Now, Yuliia is a goodwill ambassador. She travels around the world, advocating to provide Ukraine with more weapons.

Maksym Sheremet, 27



Before the full-scale war, Maksym worked as an engineer and was involved in the production and development of commercial as well as military drones. He worked for the large state defence company Ukroboronprom. Later, he worked for Evolve Dynamics, an engineering company specializing in UAVs. In March 2022, he founded Dronar- nia, his own small volunteer organization with ten members, and they began assembling combat drones. At that time, the team couldn’t have foreseen that the ongoing war with Russia would become a drone war, with both Russians and Ukrainians using drones extensively on the battlefield. A year on, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have used reconnaissance drones, kamikaze drones, and FPV drones for deliveries, and underwater drones now attack the Crimean Bridge and Russian ships in the Black Sea, while other domestically developed drones are reaching Moscow and striking targets hundreds of kilometers inland of Russia. There have also been cases when drones saved the lives of civilians or delivered food, medicine, and communication equipment to soldiers who were encircled. Now, Maksym Sheremet’s volunteer organization has grown, with over a 100 employees and more than two hundred volunteers involved in research and development. They manufacture and repurpose hundreds of various drones in their laboratory.










Roman Trokhymets, 31




Before 2014, Roman studied at university, was into breakdancing, and organized parties — “Life was beautiful.” In 2015, Roman volunteered for the military but later returned to civilian life, studied psychology, and started working in real estate. In January 2022, Roman was vacationing at his friend’s villa in Montenegro. However, news of the impending invasion was already spreading. On February 23rd, Roman hosted a farewell party in Kyiv and headed to the Azov base, where he had served in 2015. “I always said I wouldn’t see the capture of Kyiv because either they won’t take it, or we’ll all lay dead defending it.” Roman fought near Kyiv until April, 2022, and then he and his unit were sent to the border between Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions. Once, with a single shot from an NLAW13, he destroyed a Russian IFV14, saving his entire platoon. After the campaign in South Ukraine, Trokhymets went to fight as a sniper in Bakhmut.









Yaryna Chornohuz, call sign Yara, 28


Yaryna Chornohuz is a sailor and combat medic in a separate reconnaissance battalion of the Marine Corps. Yara was born into a family of writers and artists. Her father is a poet and bandura player, and her grandfather is a renowned writer. She also writes poems and recently published her second poetry collection about the war. Her first collection of poems, How the Military Circle Bends, was dedicated to her beloved, Mykola Sorochuk, a soldier who was killed by a sniper in 2020. Even before 2014, Yara organized actions to support the Ukrainian language and participated in the Euromaidan protests. She wanted to go to the eastern front immediately after the revolution's victory, but she was pregnant with her daughter. Finally, Yara completed her university studies in the philological faculty and then went to the Donbas. She joined the war effort as a volunteer medic in the Hospitallers Medical Battalion. After the death of her partner, she decided to sign a contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Since 2020, she has served as a combat medic, and from 2021, she has started in reconnaissance. Yaryna Chornohuz has been through battles alongside marines in Mariupol, Popasna, and Bakhmut. She believes that being a soldier is her occupation. Although she was born in Kyiv, returning from the Donetsk region to her hometown doesn't make her comfortable. "Here is my comfort zone," says Chornohuz about the Donbas. "There, in peaceful cities, emptiness awaits anyone who now loves fighting for what belongs to you." Yaryna Chornohuz is currently 28 years old, and she is one of the few women in the Ukrainian military who have met the physical standards to earn the right to wear the Marine Corps beret. She has always strived to be on par with men, and when the full-scale invasion began, her company commander did not send her to safer places but allowed her to continue her tasks with the unit. "I'm glad I have kept on working with my company. I'm glad nobody sent me away from the front. Many men expect you to accept misogyny and sexism. I never accepted it, not in the army, when I felt it from some men, and I won't accept it. But now I'm with people who treat everyone as equal." Yaryna Chornohuz's daughter, Orysia, is 9 years old and lives in Kyiv. The only thing that calls Yara back to the rear is her daughter. "I'm fighting for her future."

Viktor Pylypenko, call sign Frenchman, 36




Junior sergeant Viktor Pylypenko evacuates wounded soldiers from the town of Vuhledar in the southern Donetsk region, where there are now no buildings left standing. Pylypenko is a member of the evacuation team of the 72nd Brigade named after the Black Zaporozhians. "I constantly see death, often horrific death. Our battalion is mechanized, and people are constantly burning alive in the vehicles. I am also afraid of getting burned because we evacuate the wounded in an armored evacuation vehicle. The worst is when young guys, 20–21 years old, die, and you remember how they cried before going into battle. It doesn't affect you directly, but I've been through several stages of PTSD— depression, apathy, and I can see it coming for many," says Viktor. Pylypenko had a successful career and a contract job in Dubai when the Euromaidan Revolution started. He took a vacation leave from his job in the UAE to be on the Maidan and, eventually, after this short leave, he quit his job, stayed at the Maidan, and joined the Self-Defence Groups. He later went to fight for a year and a half in the Donbas Volunteer Battalion and took part in combat for Shyrokyne near Mariupol. When he returned from the war, he faced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). "I came back, my wounds were healing, and then this issue with 'gays at war' started. Those who weren't in combat were the ones pushing this narrative, and I came back from the front, and they were telling me, 'You weren’t even on the front line, and you're enemies of the people.'" That's why in 2018, Pylypenko decided to come out publicly as gay. "It was my fight for justice. I really like the name of the 2014 revolution — the Revolution of Dignity. And to me, it's that word 'dignity' — I fight for that too." He says that since then, he has only encountered two cases of homophobia. "In 2019, I was standing near the memorial wall for the fallen near St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery, talking to a wounded soldier I had pulled from the battlefield. A priest who had been in the Donbas Battalion with me, my comrade, attacked me. He found out that I had come out, and he attacked me." Another incident occurred during this ongoing war when a soldier didn't want Pylypenko to check his first aid kit because he knew Pylypenko was openly gay. "I heard them whispering behind my back, but my comrades took care of them. I don't think the Ukrainian army is homophobic now. In the community I lead, there are 370 LGBTQ+ military members. Most of them are discreetly gay. But I don't see them having many problems, and if they do occur, they get resolved." "Homophobia is Russia," Viktor says — it becomes obvious when looking at the ranks of the Ukrainian Army today.

Ruslana Danilkina, 20



Ruslana joined the war at the age of 18. Her mother and stepfather had served in 2015 and returned to the front as volunteers on February 24th, 2022. Their example inspired her. In April 2022, she joined the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and although she was initially assigned to work in the rear, she eventually fought to be transferred closer to the front. She became a communications specialist. She celebrated her 19th birthday on the front line with her fellow soldiers. On February 10th, 2023, while carrying out a combat mission in Kherson, she lost her leg. Fragments from cluster munitions hit the seat of the vehicle she was in. "I asked my comrades, 'What happened?' but they were silent," she says, recalling the moment after the shelling when she looked at her bloody leg. Fortunately, there were medics nearby who were able to stop the bleeding and save her life. Her leg, however, had to be amputated above the knee. Initially, it was very difficult for Ruslana to accept herself in this state, but then she made up her mind to fight for her life. She received constant support from people on social media. Every day, she received dozens of messages of encouragement. She decided that she could inspire others and show that a full life is possible with a prosthetic limb "Life is more precious than loss, and loss can become a new beginning," was her motto on the cover of one of the fashion lifestyle magazines featuring Ruslana Danilkina as the cover. Now she has a prosthetic limb, poses for fashion magazines, and dreams of ice skating and bike riding. Her Instagram page has 92 thousand followers, with whom she shares her new life. She also wants to inspire other wounded people, showing that life goes on and is worth living.

Yurii Kuznetsov, 53



Yurii Kuznetsov is an orthopedic traumatologist and works at a hospital in Izium. He was born in this city and has lived there for the most of his life. "On February 24th, at 6 in the morning, my 19-year-old son, who was studying at a university in Kharkiv at the time, called me and said that the war had started. I replied to him, 'Are you kidding or what?'," Yurii recalls. On that day, Kuznetsov drove to Kharkiv to pick up his son. It was still calm in Izium back then, but Kharkiv was already in turmoil. The thought of leaving his hometown never crossed his mind. In 2014, the hospital where Yurii works had already received wounded from Sloviansk when the war broke out in the East, so its doctors had some experience. However, it was incomparable to what started in March 2022. Bombs began falling on the hospital grounds. Panic was everywhere, and the city's authorities didn't know what to do. Doctors started fleeing and leaving the city. "Later, I learned that some doctors began packing their things on February 24th and leaving the city without telling anyone. Our surgeons were the best. They agreed that all of them would be on duty in shifts. It was like that until March 8th. As for traumatologists… on March 6th, I took my shift, but on the morning of the 7th, no one changed me." On March 7th at 9.30am, the Ukrainian Army blew up the bridges and the city was divided by the river into two parts. The Ukrainian army blew up the bridges to slow the Russian advance. Yurii's home was on the left bank of the city, while the hospital was on the right. He stayed at the hospital. At home, Yurii's 84-year-old mother, his disabled brother, and his 19-year-old son remained. There was no connection with them, and he didn't know if they were alive or not. Yurii Kuznetsov’s shift lasted from March 6th to September 10th – half a year. During the occupation, 23,000 people remained in the city, and many of them needed medical aid. Kuznetsov provided it mostly in the basement of the hospital. Explosions shattered all the windows on the upper floors, and artillery destroyed the surgical building. Meanwhile, Russian troops were stationed in the hospital's courtyard, shooting at Ukrainian positions. They also set up their military hospital on the campus grounds. In the hospital, until April, Kuznetsov was the only doctor, and he worked with just a few nurses. "I had to remember everything I knew and didn't know," he says. Some doctors later returned, but they only helped from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. The rest of the time, Kuznetsov worked alone. He helped not only the wounded but also chronically ill patients. He had a generator, which broke down after two and a half months. He exchanged medicine for gasoline to keep it running. "War is war, you do what you can," Kuznetsov says. There was no electricity in the hospital, and there were water problems. But Yurii managed. Russian soldiers often came to check what the doctors and nurses were doing, stripped the blankets off wounded patients, and inspected their injuries. "They didn't trust us." In total, he provided assistance to 800 people over six months. After the liberation of the city, two women he treated earlier came to him asking if he could deliver their babies. "But now we have obstetricians," Yurii laughs.

Lyudmila Huseynova, 61



For Lyudmila, the war started in 2014 when her hometown, Novoazovsk, fell under occupation. A local orphanage was closed down by occupational authorities, and kids were sent back to the parents who couldn't care for them, so she helped provide them with food, clothing, and took care of them. For five years she crossed the separation line, bringing aid from Mariupol to occupied Novoazovsk. Then, in 2019, Huseynova was arrested by the authorities of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic. They couldn't find anything "illegal," but they eventually gained access to her cloud storage and found a photo of a Ukrainian flag bearing the words "To the Patriots of Novoazovsk" in large letters. This flag still lies hidden in occupied Novoazovsk, and she says, "I hope to see it again." The militants accused her of extremism and espionage, charges that are punishable by death in the DPR. She was held at Izolyatsia, a former factory in Donetsk that had been an art center before the occupation, and was then turned into a prison. In the cell the lights were on 24/7, during the day prisoners were not allowed to sit or lay down, and at night, they could only sleep on their backs under those lights. The prison had surveillance cameras, and the prison guards observed everything, even how women undressed and used the restroom. "A few times they made us undress. You stand with a bag on your head, they remove the handcuffs from one hand and force you to undress, they touch you, grope you, and laugh," she recalls. "I heard them saying that I was too old to satisfy them, but that I had a working mouth. I realized what that could mean." Fortunately, her family learned of her whereabouts, found her a lawyer, and he even managed to visit her. She begged him to help transfer her to somewhere else. She was eventually sent to a SIZO (detention center) in Donetsk. Conditions there were terrible: a cramped cell housing 20 women who were convicted criminals, no outdoor time, awful food, cockroaches — but the treatment by the prison guards were not as degrading as at the Izolyatsia prison. She spent almost three years there. Her case was only taken to court once, and they told her that her case was not being heard because "there is currently a moratorium on the death penalty for women in the DNR." They asked if she would admit her guilt. "I admitted to extremism because I said I didn't recognize this authority, but I didn't admit to espionage. And that was it, the hearing lasted 10 minutes." Huseynova was exchanged as part of the "women's exchange" on October 17, 2022. She had been in captivity for just over three years. Since then, she has been helping other women who have suffered from violence at the hands of the occupiers. She also continually advocates for women who are still held hostage by Russia. "These are women who have been in prison for 3–4 years now, who haven't seen their children grow up, who don't have access to medicine, proper food, or water." She tries to set an example — these affected women exist in our society, and that society must accept them. But also, "after enduring such horror, a woman can go on living, she can move on." Huseynova also explains what freedom means to her: "Just to look around, just to feel people nearby, your people, like-minded individuals. And most importantly — the ability to walk. Because suddenly, for three years, your space is 80 centimeters wide – a prison bed. In the photo, Lyudmila holds a painting she managed to bring out of the Donetsk prison. Her cellmate painted it for her in exchange for cigarettes.

Iryna Yermolenko, 61

"Our city is divided by a river. I remember someone called and said, 'Either run home or take shelter at work.' I ran home across the bridge, and our boys were already standing there with the rifles. They had no other weapons," Iryna's voice trembles as she begins to cry. "Well, the wounds haven't healed yet. You're not going to get a good interview from me because nothing has healed yet and it won't. My life has just been shattered." Iryna works at the Izium Museum of Local History, and when the city was occupied in March, she tried to save at least some museum artifacts. Initially, the Russians wouldn't let her into the museum. In May, one of the museum's employees brought a note saying that they could return. "The ceilings had collapsed — there were no windows, just dirt, clay, and debris. We got rid of all the water with our hands. We were very worried about one specific item - a Gospel Book that was published in 1707. Can you imagine how much it has been through already? We were afraid they'd bring a truck and take everything away, but we couldn't take the Gospel with us either because there were so many checkpoints. So, we hid it in the building," she explains. Surprisingly, after the de-occupation, they retrieved it from its hiding place, and while it was slightly damp, it remained intact. "God must have preserved it," she says with a smile. During the occupation, Iryna would bring bouquets of lavender to the museum to protect the museum exhibits from being damaged by insects. Now, she holds the lavender bouquet as a memory from these horrific times in her life, and in the life of her museum.

Nils Thal, 36


Nils Thal is a professional firefighter from Nuremberg who took a sabbatical from his job when the full-scale war began in Ukraine. In early May 2022, he arrived in Kharkiv as a volunteer and joined one of the city’s fire departments. That’s how he found himself in his first war. Since then, he has done a lot: extin- guishing fires that broke out after shell- ing, evacuating people and animals from the floods of Kakhovka, supporting the international investigation into Russian war crimes, advising on assistance for critical infrastructures, and collecting necessary equipment and trucks for Ukrainian rescuers that came from all over EU. He also worked as a firefighter in Kherson and Kupiansk. Furthermore, he assisted Germany’s Federal Foreign Office and DSNS in facilitating training for Ukrainian rescuers in Germany and providing vehicles for them. On several occasions, he came under shelling while extinguishing fires. When asked what Ukrainian rescuers lack, he answers, “Rescuers in Ukraine lack everything — water, vehicles, personnel.”

Ignatius Ivlev-Yorke, Iggy, 28


Ignatius Ivlev-Yorke, or Iggy, was born in the UK, grew up in Russia, and came to Ukraine in March 2022. Iggy's mother is Russian, and his father is British. After working as a photojournalist, he volunteered with several humanitarian organizations, then gathered his own team which tasked itself with evacuation of civilians from frontline areas. His small squad began to evacuate the most vulnerable people from the most dangerous places. You've probably seen videos of Ignatius visiting families in Chasiv Yar village or Avdiivka town and begging them to leave. Sometimes he manages to persuade some people, sometimes not, sometimes it all happens under artillery cannonade, not even sometimes, but very often, almost always. In the fall of 2022, he took people out of Soledar. At first, his team withdrew 60 people at a time, but later they managed to evacuate only one or two at a time. In the course of his volunteer work, Iggy has found people in towns and villages far away from the front who were willing to take in those who he has evacuated from hazardous areas. Often he provides not only evacuation services, but also psychological assistance. It is almost always necessary to convince those who have decided to stay in such conditions to change their minds. One can hear on the recordings of these conversations locals saying, "I'm saving a grenade for myself in case they come..." Iggy spent the summer of 2023 mostly near the already occupied Bakhmut, and the fall in Avdiivka, which is being attacked by Russian troops. "The hardest thing is seeing people who have given up on their lives," he says. But despite this, he continues his work. "I feel like I'm not living my life in vain."






















Oleksii Maslo, 35


Until February 2022, Oleksii lived in Kyiv and had his own clothing brand. On February 22nd, he decided to visit his mom in Kharkiv. When the first shelling started two days later, she said she could not flee because she was the head of the housing co-op and had responsibility for the building. Oleksii’s father lived in a village about 10 kilometers from the Russian border. When Oleksii called him on the morning of February 24th and said that the war had started, his father thought he was joking. However, a few hours later, he lost contact with his father for 20 days. The village fell under occupation on the first day, and during all that time, Oleksii had no idea what happened to his father. He decided to stay in Kharkiv. Oleksii posted in a chat with volunteers, asking how he could help. Initially, he was sent to a local restaurant, where he loaded a bucket of borscht to deliver it to cadets. He started delivering food to the military. Then, he started driving around the city and helping anyone he could in any way possible. Maslo started actively posting on Instagram, showing what was happening in the city. People began reaching out to him, asking for help in evacuating their relatives from dangerous areas to the train station. “From North Saltivka, the largest residential area in the city, which was under constant shelling until the end of spring 2022, a taxi cost 5,000 hryvnias [approximately $130. — transl.],” Maslo says, recalling the realities of life in Kharkiv. He was transporting people with mobility issues from one area to another, and later, all the way to Poltava or Kyiv. “The first evacuation was the evacuation of my father,” Oleksii recalls. His father was finally able to get a mobile connection from his attic on the 20th day of occupation. From then on, he called his son regularly, providing information about the location of Russian troops in the village and their vehicles. Oleksii relayed these coordinates to the Ukrainian military. On the 72nd day, his father called Oleksii and told him that the Russians were retreating. “I told him to wait, that our people would come for him, and two hours later, his wife called and said he was wounded and bleeding,” Oleksii says. The problem was that the village was still in the gray zone, and Ukrainian forces hadn’t reached there yet. A local veterinarian stitched the wounds of his father, and a neighbor drove him to a neighboring village, where Ukrainian troops met him and transferred him to a military ambulance. They then transferred him to a civilian ambulance, where Oleksii was already waiting. They reached a parking lot in North Saltivka, where his father received medical care from his colleagues — his dad was an ambulance driver himself. The first thing his father asked for when he saw Oleksii was a cigarette. It turned out he had internal bleeding, a pierced kidney, and numerous shrapnel wounds. He underwent several surgeries, then continued to work as an ambulance driver, later volunteering for the army. Oleksii was also involved in collecting donations and buying ammunition for the military. Simultaneously, his friend, who lived in the Netherlands, started organizing the delivery of ambulances to Oleksii in Kharkiv. They eventually delivered 187 ambulances. Oleksii has also become a kind of ambulance driver since he has transported about 50 of them himself. After rescuing his own father, Oleksii started evacuating people from de-occupied villages and towns, often near the Russian border and sometimes in the gray zone where Ukrainian troops had not yet arrived. Oleksii and his team evacuated around 100 people. Then, they received a request from other volunteers to evacuate people from the recently liberated areas near Izium, and later, Kupiansk. “You could only get there on foot, and the Russians would let people go but then shell them with Grad9,” recalls Maslo. “In four weeks, we evacuated 18,000 people. Many were children, some were born during the occupation. Families of military personnel were also among them. There were moments when we were shelled, and we threw children down into trenches and fell on top to cover them. It was hell. 10% of people had mobility issues, and local authorities didn’t have the resources to help them. We tried to transport them to Western Ukraine. Sometimes, people were simply left there, and we found them and rescued them.” “Our volunteer was kidnapped by a sabotage and reconnaissance group. He was held captive for more than 50 days; he was electrocuted, forced to paint Soviet monuments.” While evacuating people from the occupation and constantly talking to people, Maslo realized what the worst thing for all these people was, what they were really fleeing: “People were not fleeing from shelling, from having their valuables taken, or from being beaten on the head. They were fleeing from moral pressure, Russian-language books, new laws, and prohibitions. Many people simply don’t understand what occupied territories are. People who had experienced occupation didn’t even know that Kyiv wasn’t occupied, that rubles weren’t used in Kharkiv. These people already have psychological trauma. We need to take care of them. They got into my car and cried. They couldn’t believe they were on Ukrainian territory,” Oleksii says.










Yevhenii Maloletka, 36, and Vasilisa Stepanenko, 24



Yevhenii and Vasilisa drove to Mariupol with their The Associated Press colleague Mstyslav Chernov right before February 24th. Of course, they couldn't imagine what would happen to them next. Staying in the besieged city for 20 days, they were the only journalists broadcasting and reporting from the besieged city. A tank firing at a residential building, a pregnant woman covered in blood being carried on a stretcher, a video of young parents grieving in a children's hospital while a doctor nearby slides down the wall, unable to save their 15-month-old child. If not for these journalists, the world would never have seen the horrors brought by Russia to the peaceful city of Mariupol, or the war crimes Russian soldiers perpetrated on its residents. At the time of publication of this book, their film 20 Days in Mariupol has been nominated for the Academy Awards in the Documentary Feature Film category.