Roman Ratushni: Ukraine mourns the death of its youngest hero | International
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Soldiers with several wars behind them with trembling voices, couples embracing with their gaze lost in infinity, women with flowers in their hands and eyes full of tears, and many, many, shouts of glory to Ukraine, glory to the heroes and death to the enemy. The center of kyiv on Saturday became a gigantic three-act farewell to Roman Ratushni, the 24-year-old who exemplified all the virtues in which Ukrainians want to see themselves reflected and who fell victim to a Russian attack on the Eastern Front on last June 9.
Ratushni’s death is not one more. After almost four months of war, the Ukrainians have had to get used to bad news. But the motif that drew a crowd on Saturday — and has been ubiquitous on social media in recent days — was something special. Many of those who were there spoke of a feeling of disbelief in what was happening.
In his short life, Ratushni had time to do many things. When he was only 17 years old, he participated in the Maidan revolution that would end with the departure of pro-Russian president Victor Yanukovych. He would later lead a social protest against the construction of buildings in a green area on the outskirts of kyiv. And later, when Vladimir Putin unleashed all his fury against Ukraine on February 24, he did not hesitate to enlist first to defend the capital and, when it was safe, go to the east of the country, where he would end his days. “She was brave and had a great sense of humor. She always brought out the best in each person, ”her mother, Svitlana Povaliaeva, reminded him.
Ratushni’s charisma gives his death a special meaning. But she is part of an incessant stream that no one knows when she will stop. There are no official figures, but statements by various government officials give an idea of how desperate the situation is. At the end of May, President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Davos forum that between 50 and 100 Ukrainian soldiers died every day in Donbas. But these figures seem to have fallen short. In recent weeks, various presidential advisers have been expanding them to 200 or even 500. In addition, the Prosecutor’s Office estimates that 323 children have died since the beginning of the Russian invasion.
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The magnitude of the tragedy has led some analysts to compare it to the one Ukraine suffered during World War II. But Roman Ponomarenko, a doctor of history and military analyst, questions whether the current death toll is even close to that of 70 years ago. “With the intensity of the fighting, I estimate that now we will be having about 100 casualties and 500 wounded every day. On the Soviet-German front of 1941-1945, the human losses of the Ukrainians in the ranks of the Red Army amounted to four million people, which would mean that every day around 2,820 Ukrainian soldiers died, apart from numerous civilian victims” , assures this expert.
Despite the high cost, no one at this funeral — and, in general, on the streets of Kiev — seems willing to give in to the enemy. Here the fighting spirit is not clouded by pain, however excruciating it may be. Tatiana Foltova, Ratushni’s partner in the campaign to prevent the development of the Protasiv Yar green zone, remembers him as a cheerful boy who never doubted what he had to do, and who at no time was advised by his friends not to go to war. They knew that if they told him, he wouldn’t want to hear it.
“He believed that our nation should be free, and that you had to do whatever it took to get it. We are losing the best of our generation. He is horrible”, says her friend trying to contain the emotion.
The best of a generation
This idea that the war is taking away the brightest spirits of a generation is repeated by many of those gathered. The mayor of kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, says it in a conversation with this newspaper. And also another hero who walks around: Oleg Sentzov, captured by the Russians in Crimea in 2014 until they freed him in a hostage exchange five years later. “In his 24 years of existence, Roman did more things than most people in an entire adult life,” says the filmmaker today, winner of the Sakharov Prize of the European Parliament.
Foltova is one of the speakers who remember the young activist in the Maidan square, a few meters from the place where dozens of protesters died in 2014 against the decision of then President Yanukovych not to sign the association agreement with the European Union. As she speaks, the air warning sirens sound and a message on the mobile warns that the authorities recommend seeking refuge. But no one here moves an inch. The four months of war, and the relative calm in kyiv in recent weeks, have meant that very few people pay attention to these messages.
Ratushni was extremely popular. “Because of the charisma he had, he could have become our president,” says a young man. That popularity is evident in a tribute that lasted about six hours in three settings: first a religious ceremony at the monastery of San Miguel de las Cúpulas Doradas; then a civilian in the Maidán square; and to end a funeral with military honors in which the father picked up the Ukrainian flag that wrapped the coffin while the mother stoically endured the type.
In the three scenarios the scenes were repeated: flowers to endure the farewell, music to comfort those who remain and many flags to inflame the spirits before the arduous battle that still lies ahead. Some said that Ratushni’s farewell had made them realize that they have to do more to fight for their country. This is the case of Katerina, a 22-year-old student who arrived in kyiv two weeks ago after taking refuge in Finland with relatives when the war began. “I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet, but I know I have to follow her example,” she said.
The war has awakened Ukraine’s spirit of survival. And in that incessant trickle of their own deaths, those of others are celebrated as successes. According to the latest official figures from kyiv – which should be taken with a grain of salt: in any conflict, both sides use information at their service – more than 33,000 Russian soldiers have lost their lives since February. Yulia admits that it is a disturbing idea to rejoice in the deaths of others. But she also says that, in these times, the Ukrainians are the only thing left to them.
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