Ukrainian boy’s wartime diary tells of sorrow and lethal loss

Earlier than warfare got here to his village, 12-year-old Tymophiy Z. had most of the standard tween preoccupations. And his closest confidant was his diary.

There was a particular woman, Yarina, he wrote, however she ignored him. He cherished the online game “Minecraft” and the household’s half-wild cats. He grumbled sometimes about his mischievous 6-year-old half brother, Seraphim, who didn’t all the time stay as much as his angelic moniker. When his stepfather drank, it frightened him.

These boyhood musings had been interrupted by a horrible noise within the sky on Feb. 24. Tens of 1000’s of Russian troops rolled throughout Ukraine’s borders, and suburbs of the capital, Kyiv — together with Tymophiy’s farming village, Shevchenkove, some 30 miles to the northeast — had been shortly overrun or menaced because the combating drew close to.

Tymophiy sits in his room.

(Kyrylo Svietashov / For The Instances)

“Yesterday in the morning there was an air raid alert. You could hear in our village how planes were dropping bombs,” Tymophiy wrote in a journal entry dated March 3. The household — he; Seraphim; his mom, Yulia Vashchenko, 37; and his stepfather, Serhii Yesypenko, 43, generally known as Serozha, hid within the cellar.

The mother and father started speaking about attempting to depart. However to the place? They hesitated.

On the morning of March 8, lower than two weeks into the warfare, the couple slipped out with out waking the boys. The village market, a brief distance away, was nonetheless open, and so they wanted the additional cash they made by promoting tea and different dry items there.

Two people sit in one room, while a boy walks around in another room.

Serihy Provornov, middle, and Olena Streelets of their residence with their nephew Tymophiy.

(Kyrylo Svietashov / For The Instances)

After just a few hours, Timophiy wrote later, his mom known as him. She was frantic. Russian armored autos had been rumbling via the village’s slender lanes. She advised him to seize Seraphim and conceal within the lavatory. He didn’t realize it then, however it will be their final dialog.

A bit later, Tymophiy’s aunt and uncle — Olena Streelets, 47, known as Lena by members of the family, and her husband, Serihy Provornov, 63 — arrived and hurried the boys to their close by home. They advised the brothers that their mother and father had been known as away to Kyiv, however that combating made it unimaginable for them to return simply now.

Tymophiy, whose full identify is being withheld as a result of he’s a minor, was frightened however not unduly so. The frenzy of occasions — the thunder of artillery, Seraphim’s antics, settling into their aunt and uncle’s cramped residence — saved him distracted.

“I have gotten used to shells flying over my head,” he wrote on March 13. “We still don’t have electricity.”

Two pages with handwriting.

The diary of Tymophiy sits on a desk at his household’s residence in Shevchenkove, Ukraine.

(Kyrylo Svietashov / For The Instances)

Extra days glided by, and Lena and Serihy made excuses over Yulia and Serozha’s absence. It was Seraphim — the unnoticed little eavesdropper, overhearing low-voiced, anguished grownup conversations — who blurted out the reality.

Timophiy raged to his diary, his fury at first overwhelming his grief. In slashing crimson ink, he drew a horned satan with indignant darts taking pictures from its eyes.

“I found out what happened to my mom and Serozha,” reads a March 14 entry, almost per week after the deaths. “They were killed!”

His aunt and uncle had held again but extra insufferable information. The our bodies of the couple — who died from large-caliber fireplace aimed almost point-blank at their automotive by a Russian tank — lay mutilated, unretrieved and alone inside their silver Opel Vectra for 3 days whereas Tymophiy’s uncle tried to barter secure passage to gather the stays.

Like tons of of different civilians killed by Russian troops within the once-placid Kyiv suburbs — many individuals slain execution-style, some corpses bearing indicators of torture — Yulia and Serozha needed to be buried quickly in makeshift graves. Theirs was close to a backyard gazebo.

Shelling shook the village for almost three extra weeks, earlier than the Russians pulled again as abruptly as that they had come, abandoning their bid to grab the capital and regathering within the east.

Mounds of earth in a field.

Flowers adorn the graves of Tymophiy and Seraphim’s mother and father.

(Kyrylo Svietashov / For The Instances)

The household wished a correct funeral, however it needed to watch for an exhumation and examination by forensics consultants and investigators, who had been amassing what was quickly changing into a mountain of warfare crimes proof. Greater than 1,300 our bodies had been recovered within the capital area alone. Russia continues to disclaim its troops intentionally focused civilians.

Lastly, amongst greater than a dozen different contemporary graves, the 2 had been buried facet by facet within the village churchyard on April 12.

Within the margins of his journal, its blue cowl now adorned with drawings of a pair of ghosts and a boy’s unhappy face, Tymophiy wrote: “Dreams do not come true.”

The diary of Tymophiy sits on a table at his family's home

Tymophiy’s diary.

(Kyrylo Svietashov / For The Instances)

The warfare in Ukraine has been uniquely horrific for its youngsters. About one-third of them, greater than 7.5 million children, are displaced from their properties, in accordance with United Nations estimates. No less than 348 youngsters have been reported killed as of mid-July, Ukrainian officers stated, however these numbers, which don’t embrace an accounting from still-occupied areas, are acknowledged to be low, in all probability dramatically so.

It’s as if childhood itself has been scoured away and one thing horrible has taken its place.

“I would say that every single child in Ukraine, their lives have been touched by this war,” Afshan Khan, the regional director of UNICEF, the United Nations youngsters’s company, advised reporters on the world physique in June. “They’ve either lost a family member, or they have either witnessed trauma themselves.”

In a brutal battle closely documented on social media and in information pictures, there was some reticence at first over circulating photos of tiny corpses.

Two boys play with toys in a room.

Timophiy and Seraphim play of their room.

(Kyrylo Svietashov / For The Instances)

However now, almost six months on, warfare and outrage propel countless on-line postings of disturbing images and movies: footage of lifeless youngsters beside their lifeless mother and father, youngsters bandaged and bloodied in hospital beds — if they’re fortunate sufficient to make their strategy to one — little ones wailing and bewildered, or surprised and silent, as they’re bundled into trains and vans carrying them away from the battle zone.

Typically, relations who’re uncovered time and again to the sight of lifeless and maimed family members, particularly the youngest victims, beg for a respite from the graphic photos. However they preserve coming.

Earlier than the Russian invasion, Ukraine already had not less than 100,000 orphans, many residing in grim situations in state care. Now their still-uncounted ranks have swelled. Household separations abound: fathers deployed to the battlefront whereas moms and kids search shelter elsewhere. Entire households have been despatched to “filtration” facilities in occupied Russian territories, with tons of of kids ending up inside Russia correct and put up for adoption, in accordance with Ukrainian officers.

Day-after-day at 8 a.m., Daria Herasymchuk, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on youngsters’s affairs, receives a recap of the day gone by’s occasions, together with the most recent on youngsters killed, wounded, lacking or believed deported. Or left motherless or fatherless, or each.

“It’s the worst moment of the day,” she stated. “It’s every day.”

A woman and a boy in a garden.

Seraphim talks with aunt Olena Streelets within the household’s backyard.

(Kyrylo Svietashov / For The Instances)

Lena stated there was by no means any query that she and her common-law husband, Serihy — every on their second marriage, with grownup youngsters who lengthy since left residence — would absorb Tymophiy and Seraphim. But it surely’s an amazing job.

Their run-down home consists of three tiny rooms: the bed room, kitted out with new bunk beds for the boys; a lounge with peeling paint the place the couple now sleep on a double mattress that additionally serves as the one couch; a smoke-stained kitchen with a bathe crammed behind a plastic curtain.

Serihy is engaged on a cinder-block addition, however for now, the yard is strewn with building particles, and simply outdoors the entryway, a gap within the floor is roofed over with rickety boards.

Seraphim is in perpetual movement. He leaps onto the couch mattress demanding to be tickled, drags round a watering can almost as large as him, rolls round on the ground, waving his toes within the air. He giggles and shrieks, however although seemingly thirsty for consideration, he’s far much less verbal than most kids his age.

A boy climbs over a wall opening.

Seraphim performs within the household’s yard.

(Kyrylo Svietashov / For The Instances)

“We have to take shifts with him,” stated Lena, a former kindergarten instructor, ruffling his hair.

Tymophiy, towheaded like his brother, has a sloping visage that foretells a blunt-faced manhood. He can seem concurrently childlike and outdated, with pale eyes typically both downcast or mounted in an unsettlingly intense stare.

His fundamental passion today is amassing “frags” from village lanes and yards — heavy, jagged bits of shell casings and rockets, which he likes to thrust into guests’ arms.

The household is receiving some authorities help, together with common periods with a counselor for each boys. However Tymophiy scowled when requested about his periods with the therapist.

“There are plenty of things I don’t tell him,” he stated, trying away.

A boy holds a kitten as a man looks at a photo book.

Tymophiy holds a kitten whereas his uncle Serihy Provornov appears to be like at household images.

(Kyrylo Svietashov / For The Instances)

He doesn’t sleep effectively, he stated. Typically he thinks he sees eyes watching him at the hours of darkness. The early summer time gentle bothers him. He wakes up drained; at evening, he should consolation Seraphim when he cries out.

That is the boys’ residence now — however maybe just for now. The sisters of Tymophiy’s stepfather, now estranged from Lena and Serihy, have moved into the household residence just a few streets away. They wish to undertake Seraphim, their blood relative, his aunt and uncle stated.

Lena and Serihy are adamant the boys shouldn’t be separated, and wish to preserve each of them. However the state of affairs is difficult by household acrimony, lacking paperwork and the unknown destiny of Tymophiy’s father, who has not been heard from in years.

Tymophiy picks up his diary solely sporadically now, he stated. He generally writes in what he describes as a personal code, and makes different entries in invisible ink. He willingly reveals off the volumes but in addition declares angrily that the journals have introduced him an excessive amount of consideration. As soon as a continuing and a consolation, the diary holding has turned as unusual because the upside-down world round him.

Sometimes I just want to burn them!” he stated.

A boy rides a bicycle as an older boy watches in a yard.

Tymophiy and Seraphim play of their household’s yard.

(Kyrylo Svietashov / For The Instances)

Within the village, some facets of regular life are starting to renew. Flowers poke up via rubble. There may be discuss of college beginning sooner or later. The market close to the place Yulia and Serozha died is open once more.

A number of the household cats disappeared through the combating, however others made their means residence or had been born weeks later. Tymophiy scooped up a limp-looking grey kitten, nuzzling it. That helps him sleep, he stated.

Lena, a decade older than her lifeless sister, tears up when she reminisces about Tymophiy’s mom, though she does so provided that she is out of his sight and listening to. Yulia’s turbulent relationship with Tymophiy’s father almost broke her, within the elder sister’s telling. He deserted her when the boy was nonetheless a child.

A boy is seen in a yard through a door.

Seraphim performs within the household’s yard.

(Kyrylo Svietashov / For The Instances)

However as a single mom nonetheless in her 20s, Yulia rallied and completed her training in Kyiv, Lena stated. She obtained collectively almost a decade in the past with Seraphim’s father and moved again to the village, and the pair rejoiced six years in the past over the delivery of a child, Seraphim.

Lena was godmother to each boys. Years in the past, she would take Tymophiy to highschool on the again of her bicycle or, when he was sufficiently small, snuggle him proper into the entrance basket, the place the breeze on his face made him chuckle.

In her sister’s place, she stated, she would do her greatest to mom them.

“We were family, even before this war,” she stated. “Now we will try to be a new kind of family.”