Boom. Boom. Boom.
A stocky man in a green hoodie hammers a handle into the blade of a shovel. The sound is sharp, it cannot be ignored, although the cemetery in Hroza is unusually loud for a village cemetery: tractors and lawnmowers hum, cars stop noisily, mobile phones ring.
The man finally finishes and lights a cigarette. His partner nearby is hitting a withered tree root with an ax. The tractor has already walked here, the bushes were mowed with lawnmowers. Soon it will be possible to dig. There are 52 graves in total — there will be enough work until the evening.
Hroza is a small village: three streets, up to a hundred yards. Therefore, the cemetery is small, with 4-5 rows. Two fresh burials. One is Andrii Kozyr, a military man who was reburied in his native village on October 5. The second is Oleksiy Dyachenko, who died on the morning of October 5 and thus saved the life of his sister Olgaʼs family: they did not go to the store for the wake.
The flag of Ukraine flies over Andriiʼs grave. Behind, a tractor clears another plot, half the size of the cemetery, for new graves. People wrap squares of land with ropes. There are signs on each of them: "Busy", "Busy Mukhovati". 3 people", "Busy Nechypurenko".
A tall, thin man in a blue jacket approaches the diggers, who have almost finished digging the grave. He looks down for a long time.
"Mommy will lie here," he says barely audible.
It is about 400 meters from the cemetery to the center of the village. There were only two shops in Hroza — one small one on the outskirts and a large one from the cafe, into which the Russians launched "Iskander" on October 5. The burning building is visible from afar. Only two walls remained intact — on one pink wallpaper with flowers, on the other — gray with wine glasses. A pile of unbroken plates and green plastic flowers lie near the smashed refrigerator.
People in blue UN vests are interviewing residents of nearby houses. In one of them, an elderly couple sweeps up broken glass.
"I knew there would be a funeral, the bar was open," says 73-year-old Valentina, the owner of the house. — But that day they were making a roof for us, so we didnʼt go. Lucky…. I might not go, my legs hurt, but my grandfather [husband] would definitely go. I couldnʼt resist.
Opposite the fire pit is a childrenʼs playground. There, residents made a makeshift memorial with lamps and fresh flowers. The empty swing is swayed by the wind, there are blood stains on the ground that have not soaked into the soil.
There is a sharp corpse smell and barely perceptible medical alcohol — there was a first aid station next to the store. All the dead have already been pulled out from under the rubble, but some were crushed by heavy concrete slabs. The smallest remains of the bodies could not be found.
43-year-old Evgeny found his parents under such slabs.
"I started calling my father, he doesnʼt pick up the phone," the man says. He is the eldest of three brothers in the family. Down-to-earth, with a tanned face and calloused hands. He asks not to take pictures, but he feels that he wants to speak.
That day, Yevgenyʼs family planned to celebrate his nephewʼs birthday. His parents were at the funeral, but they didnʼt think of going to the cafe — they were going home after the cemetery.
"But you know how things are in the village," Yevhen continues. — They left and left, well, they agreed, they say, for half an hour. It turned out that this was their last journey.
Evgeny wanted to go to the funeral, but did not have time. Stayed at home. When he heard a loud explosion, he ran outside and saw billows of smoke. He says that he immediately guessed that the store had been hit.
"I pulled uncle, brother, I say — letʼs go," says the man. — We go in, and there people are somehow all lying in one corner. There are no walls, everything has fallen, only one frame remains. I know what my parents were wearing, I say to my brother: "Letʼs look." I see — the jacket is familiar. He approached, pulled back the plate — they are lying. Mother and father are on her, he put his hand on top.
The graves of Eugeneʼs parents are closer to the road. He discusses with the diggers where it is better to dig them, and surrounds a patch of earth with a rope. There will be two more graves next to his parents.
"Family," Evgeny nods at the nearby graves. — The parents baptized their children, and they baptized us. And now, they will lie next to each other.
Olgaʼs house is on the next street behind the store. Two of her daughters-in-law died at the wake. She did not go herself — she stayed with her grandchildren, they are not even seven yet. When the rocket hit the building, Olga was sitting on a bench near her house.
"There was no whistle, nothing," says the woman. — Usually, you know how it happens? A rocket is flying, and you can already hear it flying, because it is buzzing like an airplane. And then bang — thatʼs it. God knows how it [the blast wave] didnʼt hit us.
Olgaʼs grandson Ilya is playing on rusty tank tracks as we speak. At the time of arrival, he was also outside.
"I grabbed the children — and into the grave," the woman continues. — And all the best men, all the friends — they all stayed there...
Olga is crying. Volodya, a military man standing next to him, reassures:
- Well, be quiet, be quiet. calm down Everything already. Everything.
The whole village knew Andrii Kozyra. They call him Andryusha, they say he was a golden man.
"This is his house," says Alla, pointing to the house opposite. — At first he wanted to build here, and then he decided to rebuild his parentsʼ house, so they [the family] moved there. And his wifeʼs parents were watching this house.
Alla was in a hospital in Kharkiv during the reburial. Her daughter-in-law was at the wake.
"Then we got a call that something like this had happened," says the woman. — I dial — but no one picks up the phone.
Shuts up. The wind slams the door behind her.
"The whole village disappeared, as if no one was there," the woman continues. — People died in families. Thatʼs how Andryushaʼs family is. There is no one left.
Andriy Kozyr has been working in Poland for a long time together with his son Denys. Later, Andriy Alinaʼs wife also came to them. They worked hard, saved money — they had to build a house, help their children.
- The children didnʼt need anything, the wife too. "He was a father with a capital letter," says Olga Dontsova. She was a close friend of the deceased Alina Kozyr. — Alinka and I have known each other all our lives. Andria also knew. The owner was — to look for such.
After the Russian invasion, Andriy and Denis decided to return to Ukraine to go fight.
— Alina calls me on Viber, with a video. He says: "Dontsova, tell them. They gathered to fight," the woman recalls. — He turns the camera on them, and they are cheerful, satisfied. They shout: "Dontsova, look, we shaved," and show their bare heads. I say, "Youʼre out of your mind, sit there. You are blind as moles." They have terrible eyesight, some terrible minus, the whole family wears glasses, and they did not serve in the army, because they are unfit. They answer: "Now everyone is flowing, everyoneʼs disabilities will be revealed. And we will sit like rats?" I say: "Andryusha, donʼt go, you donʼt have to." And their suitcases are already packed.
Alina stayed in Poland, Denys and Andrii joined the army as volunteers. In March 2022, Andrii died near Popasna. Hroza was under Russian occupation at that time, so the soldier was buried in Dnipropetrovsk region. Denys wanted to rebury his father in his native village, and spent a long time collecting documents and permits. Andriy Kozyrʼs wife Alina also came from Poland for the funeral.
— Denis was discharged from the army, he has only been at home for three months, — continues Olga. — He recently got married to our girl, Nina. Her mother, Lyuda, also died. And father, Valik, is fighting somewhere.
On the morning of October 5, Olga learned that her brother Oleksii had died.
— In the evening [October 4], we sat by the grave [of Andriy Kozyr]. I say to Alina: "In the morning I will take Lyoshka to the hospital and I will be at your place at 10 oʼclock," Olga says. — I woke up, dialed my father, and he says: "Lyoshka must have died." I canʼt see the pupils, but itʼs warm, as if itʼs breathing." I ran there, called an ambulance and asked my son-in-law to go, they will look. I come, and [son-in-law] Slavunchyk says thatʼs all. Died
Olgaʼs son-in-law Slava is sitting nearby. Periodically, she asks him to go to the house, to check "how the woman is doing." This is Olgaʼs grandmother, she is 88 years old. Olga worries that she too will die soon.
"And we were going to [go to the funeral]," the woman continues. — Alina is my soul, everyone would leave. We went to the ritual to order a coffin and things. I tell Slavik to stop [at the cemetery], I will say goodbye to Andryushka. Alina asked if I would come [to the wake]. I say: "We need things, a coffin, Lyoshka is still in the morgue, we wonʼt have time to hold our funeral." Alina says: "Well, then we will come to your place in the evening, we will help cook soup and potatoes [for the memorial dinner]." Then Lyuda [Denys Kozyrʼs wifeʼs mother] calls: "Dontsova, donʼt worry, weʼre with you. We will bury Andryushka, and we will go to your place for lunch. We will cook everything, we will pull out the tables."
When Olga was already returning from the ritual service to the village, Alina called her again, persuading her to come at least for half an hour. The cafe in the store was usually closed — but the owner opened it for a memorial service due to an old friendship. Olga refused again — she said that everyone would sympathize with her about her brotherʼs death, and these words only made it worse.
- I went outside — I see Uncle Vanya Khodak walking, nicely dressed. I ask: "Did you attend the funeral?" He: "I didnʼt go to the cafe, I donʼt want anything." We walked ten meters, and then — boom! At first I did not understand what happened. Then I look — there is smoke above the store. And my little one, Ruslanchyk, begged outside before that. Empty and empty, to the site [near the store]. I told him: "Ruslan, go to the house!" He persuaded me for twenty minutes, then I already said — go. If he had left the first time, he would have been lying there like that.
As we speak, a siren can be heard in Shevchenkov. Olga offers to put the phones in airplane mode — they say, there are four of us sitting here, so maybe a rocket will come here. Her son-in-law Slavik smiles, but also turns off his phone. Olga continues:
— I turn around, I see Ruslanchyk [next to me]. He says: "Iʼm blown away." I run up, he tells me: "Mom, the big one [stayed there]." But how big! Iʼm for a child — and to the house.
Everyone is silent. Slavik smokes a cigarette, Olga also takes it out of a pack. Suddenly he says:
- We have only one woman, she is very religious. old woman He says to me: "You know, probably your whole family stood on the threshold of paradise. And the Lord God came out and said to your brother: "Choose — either you go to heaven alone now, or your sister and the whole family." And he stepped into heaven, but pushed you away."
One of the versions of why the rocket hit the cafe during the wake is a local gunner. Residents say that after the tragedy, the SBU came to them and checked their phones. They are not surprised that someone with whom they have lived side by side all their lives could have guided the missile. They say that there are still people here who support Russia.
"Someone left when the village was liberated," says Yevhen. — And the relatives stayed here, thatʼs how they call them in Russia. They say how bad Ukraine is.
Hroza was occupied in the first days of the invasion, it ended up in the deep rear of the Russians. They did not stay in the village, but constantly traveled through it to Kupyansk and Izyum.
"When they [the Russians] came in, these [collaborators] came out of the houses," Yevhen continues. — They are standing, waving their hands. Everything was just beginning, it was still unclear who was who, and Zoya came up to me, smiled so ugly and said: "Thatʼs all, Zhenechka. The end of you." He kept silent.
Olga Dontsova says that it is good that Alina Kozyr was in Poland during the occupation. As the wife of a military man, she would definitely be captured by the Russians. The occupiers took two local boys who fought in the ATO to prison in Kupyansk.
"The parents freed one," says Olga. — They spent the night on the doorstep of the Kupyan prison for months, they persuaded the Russians — and they let them go. They also died [October 5].
"The Russians were tough," says Yevhen. — We have bukhariks here, I call them "vibrators" — because they stand, shake, want to drink. So those "vibrators" stopped pounding. They were afraid If they did not come to work with the Russians because they were sick, they were left for another six hours. They were happy. "Strong hand", everything is as they like.
Almost no one left the village during the occupation. They say — where to go from home? When the village was liberated, Yevhen remembers, at first they couldnʼt believe it. But those who collaborated with the occupiers were never arrested.
- Zoya had a notebook, it was written about everyone in the village. I wrote lists of those who continued to receive pensions from Ukraine and gave them to the Russians, says Yevhen. — And now what? Zoya will lie there, two graves away from my parents. She died in the same way as everyone else in the store.
His brother Yuriy adds:
— We had to bury [Andriy Kozyr] quietly and that was it. No wakes. Maybe the whole white world knew that this would happen, but we didnʼt.
It starts raining in Hroza at noon. But the cemetery is still crowded. On October 7, the couple Mykola and Tetyana Androsovich were buried here. It is not yet known when the funerals of the others will take place. People say that the bodies will not be given to them before October 9-10. They are worried — they say that they will all be buried in one day, and then the rocket will fly again.
All the women in the cemetery are wearing black bandages. They hug and cry quietly. The woman in dark glasses introduces herself as Hanna. On October 5, three of her best friends died. Anna was not let go from work, otherwise she would have come to say goodbye to Andrii too. In small villages, everyone knows each other well. That is why people are escorted on their last journey through the whole village.
Evgeny and his brother Yuri watch as graves are dug for their parents. They often smoke. Evgeny says that his parents were good people.
"There will be graves in every house," says Alla, whose daughter-in-law died in the store.
Olga Dontsova adds:
- At funerals, people will not cry — they will howl.
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