Only true men are ready to lay down their lives for their country.

Liashuk Maksym, patrol police company “Svityaz`”

Father: My son – Liashuk Maksym Volodymyrovych, born on May 18, 1989, in Lutsk.

Liashuk Olya, the wife: the commander of the second platoon of patrol police company “Svityaz`”, my husband.

It all had started before Maidan. He got imbued with what was happening around. And when it came to the Heavenly Hundred and Crimea, Maksym decided to enlist in “Svityaz`” as a volunteer. He was not called into the army. He worked as an adventure racing coach in school in Ostrozhets. Also, he was a teacher in Radyanske village and in the town of Mlyniv. Before that, he worked in a special police force “Sokil”.

Since day one it was not the right place for him. And he became a school teacher. Children learned a lot with him. Together they made several treks. The team he trained won twice at the competition “Stezhkamy heroyiv” (Along the Path of Heroes). Once it fell into his mind to go to Crimea since he had already traveled the length and the breadth of the Carpathians. He managed to take pupils there before the occupation. I gave birth to Matviyko and two weeks later Maksym had a 7-10 day walking tour. He missed his son badly. I asked him ‘Where’re you going? Your son is here’. And he answered ‘I made a promised’. He was very proud that children had seen Crimea before it was occupied. Right after the invasion, Maksym strived to go to Crimea. He said he must go there and defend. But we somehow talked him out of it. I was against his going to Maidan as well. I needed his help with the baby. Then we persuaded him a second time not to go. But he was determined and set out.

We never discussed his decision. He simply asked what I think of those who got a draft notice and went underground. He said he would not go into hiding and was ready to defend his homeland. What triggered him was his comrade who led “Svityaz” battalion. And Maksym left to discuss certain subjects with him. In my mind, by that time the idea to join the battalion had already occurred to him. Because such a decision – to up and defend the Fatherland – cannot be spontaneous. When he came back after the meeting with Fatzevych, Maksym said ‘You may congratulate me now. I am a policeman again’

 Some people still believe that Maksym’s intention was to get privileges as a combat veteran. But I wonder how self-confident one should be to believe that he will not die and grab it all. I am not saying that Maksym was fearless. Fear is the common state. But still, there was a little doubt in his mind. He did not lose his courage, though. Only true men are ready to lay down their lives for their country.

Father: He was amongst the first ones to enlist in “Svityaz”. He left his job at once. I told him, ‘This is a real war. Think of your wife and son’. And he answered, ‘Dad, what will I say to my son when he asks why our country is so small?’ Those were boys with unbroken spirit. I remain in contact with his comrades. And those who are no more – according to their dearest and nearest – those boys were true patriots and devotees. They had a sense of purpose; they believed that it is possible to change the country. So, they caught fire. We even did not know who was with him then. He was away on training from morning till night. During the Maidan, they spent their days and nights. They stood guard and kept soldiers from breaking up the demonstration. There is a military unit here in Lutzk.

Going home from work I sometimes drive him home too. But sometimes he stayed at the base. Maksym was always in action. He never stood still. From the very beginning, it was clear that he would go to the Donbas. How hard we tried to talk him out…

Olya, the wife: He told me that it was just a territorial defense battalion of Volyn region. Two months later I understood that he would be sent to ATO zone. And still, it was a volunteer battalion, not the regular army. There were only light weapons. And they should not have gone to Ilovaisk. He assured me that their task was to mop-up the separatist-free territory.

On Aug. 13 they left to ATO zone. I was watching TV and heard that reinforcement is needed in Ilovaisk. And in the evening Maksym called and told that they are to be in some other place which he did not name. I said, ‘It is Ilovaisk’. ‘How do you know it?’, as though I was the Chief of Defense. I said, ‘From the news’. They were told to reinforce. Light weapons. A small amount of food for a day or two… He did not even take his shockproof phone that holds a charge for a month. And when I found out that they were encircled, I was sure we would keep in contact by phone. But he did not take it along.

On Aug. 28 he made a call to each and everyone. We stayed in touch then. In the evening Maksym asked how it is going. One can hear whether the person is in the building or out. I never questioned him about their location, since I know the calls could have been monitored. And he never specified. ‘Are you outside?’ ‘I am’. Pause. What I made from it was that either it became silent and nobody was firing, or they were getting ready to leave. These were my guesses. He said he would call if he had an opportunity. 

Father: He called me on Aug. 27 and told that the ice had been broken. They got one killed and one wounded in action. I know everything. I can put you onto each day of these four months. It started from Ischuk’s funeral and when six soldiers were listed as missing. Then ‘Svityaz’ came home, all people began to inquire. Fatzevych talked largely about what a great combatant he was. I then told him ‘You’re a bad shepherd. Bad is the shepherd who came back without his herd.’

And here it came. On Sep. 2-3 we left for Dnipro. We searched the whole city for him. Then we met with the volunteers. We searched for a clue; we traveled to Kiev, visited Yerimeyev. Imagine that there is no child at home for a month. Only on December 25 we found him and brought him home. I have Maksym’s things he had with him.

Olya, the wife: The picture in the morgue, of which his father recognized him, was dated September 1. The withdrawal operation was on August 29 in the morning. I don’t know where they were in between.

Father: Body identification began on September 1 at midnight. I received a call at work. Many questions about his uniform, T-shirt, underwear. He wore the icon of St. Nicholas. Very ancient one.

Olya, the wife: The icon belonged to my great-grandfather way back in the First World War. At first, they asked me in what he was. I did not grasp. She asked what he was wearing. I said: black sweater. ‘Maybe it is gray-green?’ And I was in such a state of shock. I ran to the wardrobe. The black sweater was there. I thought how did she know it? And my mom said that they are busy with the dead. This thought did not occur to me. And then, as she said it, I began to look for photos, and I recalled that the sweater was gray-green. And then the woman told me she would send me pictures via e-mail. In the pictures, I saw all his things and the number.

Father: 3195th. She called me three times and asked if she could send the picture. These are people, you know? We went there late in the night and got this USB drive with the photographs of his body, his clothes, and everything else and brought it home. 

Olya, the wife: There was such a difficult situation in Ilovaisk because of many deaths. Perhaps many could not be identified for the bodies were crippled. And Maksym could be identified. On his phone display – please insert a SIM card and make a call. But I understand the situation.

Father: It is still a mystery. 51 men were buried in Zaporizhia. Then, a month later, 150 were buried in the Dnipro. When we came for Maksym we saw how many of them were there. How many mortuary refrigerators were there at the end of December… How many died there – is anybody’s guess. We have a death certificate. Everything is recorded there. We have all the documents; there is a complete description of the body. He is buried here, in the village, right across the street.

Maxim’s father, Ostrozhets village, Volyn region. July 2017 Photo by Maks Levin

Olya, the wife: The son was 10-months-old. He does not remember his father. But he is such an age now – I want daddy. He merely invents him. Matviyko says, ‘Why don’t I see daddy?’ I told him: Cause he is an angel. He is like an invisible man’ For him, his father – is a superhero, who is simply not visible.

Father: And once when we were swimming a year ago, I showed him a video where they were swimming together. And we went to that place. I cannot describe it to you enough… he ran out of the car and said, ‘Where is my dad?’ 

Mother: There was a man standing behind him. And Matviyko says: “Oh, Daddy, Daddy!” 

Father: All payments have been paid to us; we got an apartment, too. It is all official. Thanks to the police. The chief comes over. He feels guilty. But we are not at a loss. However, it is a pity that nothing has changed; it led to no result.

Olya, the wife: We have some privileges, like a reduced price for utilities. Volunteers give us help. Maksym said’ ‘If anyone should perish, then as a hero, will be buried with dignity. But what happened to him, I find unworthy.

Father: There are dozens of boys from the Volyn region who are listed as missing. But everyone understands that they are not. If we did not do anything if we did not make a hundred calls until we received that flashcard with photos. It is not the state that provided us with them. Why did nobody bring the bodies back? Everyone knew what was happening. It is the war. Why keep it secret? At first, it was reported that there were 60 people died in Ilovaisk, then there were 100 of them. But we all know that the number is up to 3000.

Maxim’s father and mother, Ostrozhets village, Volyn region. Photo by Maks Levin

Father: But we are parents and we are worried. I ask, ‘Guys, when did you see Maksym for the last time?’ All of them were riding a bus. Everyone knows who and where to sit, who ran and where. It was thought that when a year passed, maybe someone would talk more. But everything is still in secret.

Many now ask, ‘Why did you let him go?’ If it were not for these guys, Ukraine could not have existed by now. They did not expect that there would be a resistance. Those guys were patriots indeed. And now it is different. They go in the army for the money. But those guys were not interested in whether they would be paid, in whether they would get any benefits. They just did it. They knew it was necessary. They wore a German uniform that was bought on their own.

Olya, the wife: I sometimes blame myself for that, because what happened had touched my son. Although he was little, he saw and knew a lot. He is probably the very first to feel it. Because when he said goodbye to Maksym, Matviy was crying. He seemed to feel that this was their last meeting. Until then he did not utter the word “daddy”. And when Maksym was in the ATO zone, Matviyko said “daddy”, and then I called Maksym. I knew that it was very painful for him.

When he was in Donbas, he just could not ask about Matviyko, and I felt his pain. Perhaps, he also senses he would not come back. All that he did was for the sake of the future of children. He never stopped repeating that only brave men can put an end to the war.