Kateryna Panchenko (right), 20 years old and 7 months pregnant, cries over the body of her husband Edward, 22, at a morgue in Kyiv. Both are from the eastern Ukrainian city of Dniprodzerzhynsk. Mr. Panchenko, a soldier with the 93rd Brigade, was severely wounded in January during heavy fighting at Donetsk airport. He died at the Kyiv Military Hospital in the early morning hour of February 8, 2015. Kyiv, February 10, 2015
Kateryna sits in her room with her son Andrij and her grandmother. Andrij was born several months after her husband died.
Kateryna (Katya) Panchenko was born in Dnipropetrovsk region but lived in Kharkiv most of her life. She moved to Dniprodzerzhinsk to be with Edik. It is here that they met in the company of mutual friends. They moved in together two weeks after they began dating.
She tells their story.
Our home was full of happiness. We were crazy about each other. I knew that this was the man with whom I would grow into old age very happily.
Edik worked as a specialist at a poultry farm. Katya worked as a criminal investigator with the police.
I couldn't go to the Maidan because of work, but I kept track of events. It was painful for both of us. When the war began and my husband was called up to the military, he gathered his things and said, “I'm going.” This was during the first wave of mobilization.
The military summons came on April Fool's Day, 2014. Well, we laughed together and started to pack his things.
Before this he served in the Navy as a paratrooper. He dreamed of being in the military since childhood.
On April 4th, Edik went to the military base and was supposed to return home after 45 days. But on April 22, he called me and said he would not return, as they were told they would stay there as long as necessary. On April 29, he was already under attack in Donetsk [with the 93rd Brigade].
Edik came home in the early summer. That is when he proposed: he came to my work place with a huge bouquet of flowers and a ring. He got down on one knee and said, “Marry me.”
I went to his base in August and stayed with him in a tent for a month. I became friends with his army buddies.
We got married on September 12 . I was in a dress and he was in uniform.
When I found out I was pregnant, I no longer knew where he was and what he was doing. He was very worried about me and the baby, but he tried not to show it.
He told me that he was not off at war and that everything was okay, that there were no attacks and that they were playing football.
Edik was in Kostyantynivka [city in Ukrainian government controlled Donetsk oblast] at the end of November. I came to him and we lived in the home of a family that they [Ukrainian military] has helped. This family accepted me as one of their own.
We celebrated The New Year together. On January 3rd, he again went off to war. He went very wearily. I think he felt something. It was the first time I saw him off in this state. He said, “I'm afraid. I'm tired. I want to go home.” It was the first time this man expressed such things to me.
Edik was the driver of an infantry combat vehicle. He drove people from Pisky to the [Donetsk] airport and back. He drove this road every day.
On that day, he called me and said that he was leaving soon. We talked for 10-15 minutes every morning even though I didn't know exactly what he was doing. But I had a feeling that he was in danger. I worried every time because he always told me: “My vehicle is my coffin on wheels. If I’m attacked, I will not have time to get out of it."
So every day I sat, waited and stared at the phone until he called me in the evening.
Their commander was a very smart man. He kept all his men alive. Only he and my husband didn't survive. It isn’t his commander’s fault that my husband died. My husband is dead because our doctors were late [in realizing his grave condition].
His commander's name was Maxim Presnyakov. Maxim turned 29 years-old this year.
They were ambushed and were under attack.
They had to go get men out of an encirclement [by enemy forces]. The fiercest attacks on Pisky were taking place at this time. My Edik led the convoy and with him was his commander who was on top of the vehicle. They drove over a mine, and when the vehicle exploded, Maxim got Edik out from it.
The mine exploded beneath Edik’s legs. At first he did not understand what happened. After two minutes Maxim regained consciousness and saw that the vehicle was on fire and rescued my husband from the burning vehicle.
As Maxim was pulling Edik away, a sniper shot him. He gave his life for my husband. Edik then crawled away from the vehicle himself. Edik told me that when he saw Maxim had fallen down dead, he lied there for 10-15 minutes and did not move so the sniper would think he was dead too.
The men were returning fire at that time. When reinforcements took them away, Edik held on tight to his commander so that he wouldn't fall off the vehicle. He loved him very much.
Maxim left behind a mother, father, an older brother and his brother’s wife. He was not married, but he dreamed that after the war he would find a girl, get married and have children.
When Edik was in the hospital, Maxim’s mother called me and said she wanted to visit us. This was the day that we were departing Kyiv [with Edik’s body]. I told her that Edik had died.
We met up for Maxim’s birthday. I went to Cherkasy oblast and met his mother and family. The whole day we talked and cried. We now speak with each other regularly.
Initially, Katya had learned through a news report that the 93rd Brigade came under fire and there was one wounded and one killed in action. She was very nervous as she could not reach her husband throughout the day.
From that moment I could not sit, eat, nor drink. I thought he was killed. I cried and could not stop. His mother did not know he was in the ATO [Anti Terrorist Operation zone]. She thought he was at his base. She is a very anxious person and he forbade me to tell her. She didn't understand why I was crying every day.
In the evening a text message came from an unknown phone number that all was okay.
The next day he called me from a hospital in Dnipropetrovsk and told me that he had a sore throat. I told his mother everything and warned her that this was not a sore throat. Otherwise, he wouldn't be lying in a hospital in Dnipropetrovsk.
When we arrived the doctor told me that he was severely wounded and his leg had been amputated. His heel was shattered in the other leg. We were allowed to go into the intensive care unit. I thought that I would cry, but when I saw him, he smiled and said, "Kiss me. I missed you."
He said the baby and I saved him: "I knew that if I closed my eyes, I would die, but I thought about you and the baby." He began to cry and said Maxim had been killed.
The nurse said that Edik called me three hours after his leg was amputated.
He was in intensive care for three days in Dnipropetrovsk, but I was allowed to visit. I brought him food and fed him. He didn't complain. He didn't cry. On the third day, he called and said that he was going to be transported by plane to Lviv. We waited for the plane, but it didn't come due to bad weather. The next day, it turned out, he was transferred to Kyiv. I'm sure if he had been transferred to Lviv, he would still be alive.
In Kyiv someone gave me a place to stay.
All was well until February 4th. At 2 pm he was transferred out of intensive care. He recovered poorly from the anesthesia. He didn't want to eat and started to vomit. His blood pressure was low. I went home feeling very nervous. I called him at night and he was not asleep.
On February 5th, he was hiccupping non-stop and nothing seemed to help. One person told me it was a type of intoxication.
I spent the whole day chasing after doctors and nurses asking them to pay attention to him. They told me, "Don’t bother us. We’re tired of you. We're doctors and we know better. Leave us alone".
He ate nothing all day. I forced him to eat a little bit, but this made him vomit.
I again ran around asking for help. I requested he be transferred to the intensive care ward. I told them he had an infection.
One time when he vomited, I called a nurse because it needed to be cleaned up. She came, cleaned up and grumbled: "You couldn't wait until someone gave you the bedpan. Why did you do that?"
I was shocked. Healthy people are not even able to control themselves at such moments. Also, this man is missing a leg. She said this to a man who was almost unconscious. He was lying there and did not even understand what she was saying.
I spent two days trying to prove to doctors the need to have him transferred to the intensive care ward. The whole time they simply told me: "Leave us alone; we know better."
Finally, he was transferred.
The deputy head of the intensive care ward allowed me to visit Edik. I practically fell over when I saw him: his temperature was almost 40C (104F), he was completely red, his lips were cracked, tubes were sticking out all over the place. I started to cry. He said, "Katya, come on. It's hard enough already. Just don't cry."
We talked for a little while. He then said that he found it difficult to speak and that I should visit tomorrow. These were his last words to me. We didn’t speak to each other again.
I attended an evening mass.
That night I had a wonderful dream; several years had passed. Our son Andrij is sitting in the kitchen, he is 7 years old and he asks me what I am cooking. The door then opens and Edik arrives home from work. We then eat dinner and watch a comedy show on TV.
In the morning I was confident that he would be okay.
I arrived at the hospital and was told that he was worse.
I went to him and he was in a coma. There were tubes everywhere. He was breathing through a ventilator.
He was placed into a medically induced coma because his body had no strength to fight. Edik had sepsis.
I sat with him for about an hour holding his hand. I told him about the dream I had. I asked him, "Edik just don't leave me, you promised."
And his tears flowed. He was crying. I wiped his tears. The doctors had told me that he wouldn't be able to hear me.
That night and the next morning I again attended a mass at church.
I went to the ICU by myself. It was around 9:15 am. Everything was bustling. I didn't understand what was going on.
I grabbed a doctor and asked what was happening.
The doctor told me to wait in the hallway. After 5 minutes out waked the cleaning lady. The day before she had put me at ease. I will never forget the look on her face. She looked at me with such sorrow and pain in her eyes.
I stood in the doorway and didn't know what to do. I just stood there and waited for someone to notice me.
Out came his doctor as well as the chief of purulent surgery. They took me into a conference room. I thought Edik’s health had worsened.
The doctor sat across from me, took my hand and said, "You shouldn't worry; you are carrying a baby." Then he said that Edik had passed away.
The world came crashing down. I started screaming. They held me. They comforted me for about 5 minutes and then just left me there.
I sat there. I didn't cry. I screamed and howled like a dog. I had to go down four flights of stairs and simply crawled down. People avoided me and no one approached. They saw me and knew something had happened. They could tell I was pregnant.
I went outside and simply fell into the snow.
Then I realized that I had to tell his mother. She didn't even know that he was in intensive care.
I called her and for about two minutes I kept silence and then said: "Mom, Edik died" and then hung up the phone. I again fell into the snow. His mother was at work and fainted.
A nurse helped me up [from the snow].
After an hour, I called a volunteer and asked her to come get me. She took me to her home. From there I called Edik’s army buddies.
No one was there for me the moment when I most needed support. This is a big problem with our people. Pain is regarded with disinterest.
Then we took Edik home. We were supposed to arrive at 5:00 pm and people were waiting for us. There was a strong wind and it very cold. We were hit by a blizzard, which caused us to be very late. Yet, people still waited for us. The Automaidan [Maidan activists who used their vehicles to assist the revolution] met us at the entrance to the city. Our convoy drove through the main streets of Dneprodzherzhinsk. People looked on in amazement. They saw the black car, which had “Cargo 200″ written on it. [Cargo 200 is military code for soldiers killed in action in Ukraine]. They knew that a dead soldier was returning home from the war.
Near the entrance to our home we were met by 200 people, friends, acquaintances, people who weren’t indifferent. We brought Edik inside our home. I put on his favorite dress that he had bought for me. I sat with him all evening and all night.
For about the first month it was absolute hell. Every night I asked God to give me the strength to endure this all.
When I gave birth everything changed and there was a sense of purpose to my life. God only allows what a person can endure.
Katya has received all the assistance that the Ukrainian government promises. A Ukrainian family in Canada also provides Katya and her son with monthly monetary assistance.
Katya now has a son Andrij, who will turn one-year-old in April, 2016. She became a volunteer and assists the Georgian Legion, a volunteer battalion.