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Alone. Kateryna Moskaliuk's project about the wives of fallen soldiers


The photo project "Alone" tells the stories of women from all over Ukraine whose husbands were killed during the full-scale Russian-Ukrainian war. Odesa, Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Ivano-Frankivsk, Starokostiantyniv, or small towns and villages - the pain has no specific location. The photographer Kateryna Moskaliuk took portraits of the wives of fallen soldiers, the things they keep in memory of their husbands, and also photographed the women's friends and family who help them find new meanings in life. A person experiencing the pain of loss should not be alone.


Unfulfilled dreams


Thousands of soldiers in Ukraine were killed during the Russian-Ukrainian war, and their loved ones were left with unfulfilled dreams of a future together. Women who have lost their husbands forever live in big cities and remote villages, they are of different ages, professions, and life views, but they are united by their common grief.


"One of the stages of the burial ceremony is to thank the relatives of the deceased for their dedication to the country and service and to hand over the flag. And now these people - parents, spouses or children - stand with the blue and yellow flag and hold it tightly. At this moment, they seem to me very lonely. It's like they're asking society-that's all, there's a flag, but no man, and how to live with it all," recalls photographer Kateryna Moskaliuk of the beginning of the project.


Most women who have lost their husbands in the war refuse to use the word "widow." They are afraid that this concept will erase the memories of their loved ones and betray their memory. They ask to be called the wives of fallen soldiers. Today, they are shouldering many responsibilities that they used to share with their partners. Many of them had to leave their homes near the front line and start all over again. Alone.


For wives who have lost their husbands, it is important to keep the memory of their loved ones alive, to talk about their preferences and dreams, and to recall happy moments together. "I'll probably cry, but I really want to be heard, to learn about my Volodya," says Ivanna. "The pain doesn't lessen with time, I just learned to live with it," explains Olena. "I miss his hugs and his warmth the most," says Katia. The story of each couple is unique, but the grief is the same for all of them.


"All the wives of the fallen soldiers in different contexts repeated the same thought: their husbands chose not their own lives with their families, but our lives. They went to defend the country and, above all, its people. We can live at the cost of their lives," says photographer Kateryna Moskaliuk.


Natalia, Lysychansk


"Next to my husband, I always felt like a queen. I wore dresses and high-heeled shoes, and Dmitry always drove me to work and always took me home. He often gave me flowers. Even when he was at the front, he ordered bouquets and soft toys for me. This pink teddy bear came to me along with roses, and now it sits next to me on the bed. I really miss my husband's hugs and warmth," Natalia recalls.


Natalia received gifts from her husband even when he was at the front. Dmytro ordered flowers and plush toys for her. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


"Dmytro was born in Luhansk and graduated from our Luhansk Higher Military Aviation School of Navigators. In the late 90s, he served in Georgia. When Ukraine became an independent state, he returned to Luhansk and took the oath of allegiance to Ukraine. We met in Luhansk - it was our second marriage, and we finally found our happiness.


In 2014, we left Luhansk and moved to the city of Lysychansk. Russia has stolen my home twice, and now it has taken my husband. Dmytro wrote to me every day and called me whenever possible. We were constantly in touch. On August 9, I did not receive the traditional morning message," Natalia says. Dmytro Kosenko died on August 9, 2022, from injuries sustained in his native Luhansk region.


In memory of her husband, Natalia keeps his military uniform, badges, and a cross, and Dmytro's wallet is always on the shelf. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Lyudmila, Kyiv


"Andriy was in the ATO, he had combat experience. He was a very caring man and a loving father to his little girl. I could count on his help and support at any time. I asked him to write the phrase "Always together" for me. After his death, I got this tattoo. I miss him very much..." says Liudmyla. Her husband, Andrii Vovk, died on August 15, 2023, near the village of Terny in Donetsk region. While performing a combat mission, he was fatally wounded by enemy artillery fire.


Liudmyla stands on the bridge of Kyiv's Natalka Park, where she and her husband Andrii used to walk frequently. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Liudmyla in Kyiv. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Liudmyla's husband was killed near the village of Terny in Donetsk region. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Liudmyla asked her husband to write the phrase "Always together". After Andrii's death, she got this tattoo. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Ivanna, Sokilnyky village, Lviv region


"At home, there are photos of my husband Volodymyr on the shelf. We put candles next to the photos - when we light them, it's as if we can feel his breath next to us. When Volodya died, our daughter Victoria was only two months old. He managed to see her when he picked us up from the hospital," says Ivanna.


Ivanna's husband died when their daughter Victoria was just two months old. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


"We met Volodya five years ago. He and his friend, who also died in the war, rented a room with us. We have a big age difference - 16 years. However, I never felt older than him, he was a reliable support for me and my older daughters from my previous marriage. Volodya loved to give me expensive jewelry and wrote me poetry. I printed out our correspondence - there are so many warm and touching words.


I owe the incredible five best years of my life together to him. Volodymyr is the best, unique, loving man..." says Ivanna. Her husband Volodymyr Lemeshchuk was killed on April 20, 2022, near Popasna, Luhansk region. The officer managed to evacuate his wounded subordinates from the battlefield, but was fatally wounded himself. He was 23 years old.


Volodymyr often gave Ivana jewelry. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Volodya was a reliable support for Ivanna and her older daughters from her previous marriage. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Eva, Lviv


"I remember at the beginning of our relationship, I went with Dmytro to the Vysokyi Zamok park. It was the end of March, and it was starting to snow. We were sitting there drinking wine and eating cheese. Dmytro was such a choleric person, he was so fast - he walked fast, spoke fast. He walked in front of me and told me how we would live," Eva says.


Eva at her home in Lviv. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


"My place is full of his things - I couldn't throw anything away. The watch I bought him, his cap, his niece has his arafat, which I haven't had time to take away yet. We also have our fingerprints in the dough - Dmytro's, mine and my son's and daughter's.


The children are doing well, they are holding up. Everything seems to be fine, and then at one moment they become very sad. The other day, Borya cried for a long time, asking why our dad died. I have no answer," Eva says. Her husband, Dmytro Fialka, died on September 1, 2022, in the battle for the city of Bakhmut, Donetsk region.


Eva got a tattoo with the dates of her husband's life and death. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Eva is raising two children on her own, a son and a daughter. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Kateryna, Lviv


"I met Andriy when we were both 20 years old. We lived together for 21 years. We have a daughter, Margarita. We could have lived a long and happy life together. However, a full-scale war broke out. My husband went to defend us," says Kateryna.


Katia hugs her husband's uniform. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


"I always told my husband that he was a builder and should rebuild the country after the victory. I was very proud of him and worried about him at the same time. He died in the summer, a few days before our daughter's first communion.


I miss my husband very much. I often visit him at the cemetery. When I want to feel his warmth, I wrap myself in his military uniform. When I am very lonely, I buy flowers as if it were a gift from him," says Katia. Her husband Andrii Petrov died on July 12, 2022, near Avdiivka.


Katia at home in Lviv. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Katia with a man's uniform. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Oksana, Zhovkva, Lviv region


"At home, we were constantly discussing the issue of a full-scale war. When February 24 came, I immediately realized that my husband would go to war. In 2014-15, Viktor volunteered for the ATO. He never refused a task. He could never pass by injustice and knew why and where he was going. Viktor was extremely positive and optimistic. He said what he believed in," says Oksana.


Oksana looks through family photos at home in Zhovkva. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


"The pain is no longer acute, but chronic. The pain has become constant and familiar, and there is no escape from it. I can't get used to the fact that my husband is gone, that his chair is empty," Oksana says. Her husband Viktor Dudar was killed on March 2, 2022, while performing a combat mission in Mykolaiv region.


Oksana's husband died in March 2022. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Oksana can't get used to the fact that her husband is gone and the only chair in the kitchen is empty. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Oksana's husband's belongings. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Khrystyna, Lviv


"My husband Roman often touched my face gently. Now only the flag on his grave embraces me. I don't understand how he could leave me. Roman was wounded on January 7, 2023. He had been fighting for his life for so long, he wanted so much to see his sons grow up. I was by his side in the hospital, I believed in the best until the end," says Khrystyna.


Khrystyna is raising two sons on her own. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Khrystyna with her children in Lviv. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


"I met Roman in 2014. I was a waitress, he was a bartender. He invited me for coffee, but I didn't agree. In 2014, Roman received a draft notice and went to war. We talked a lot on the phone when he was in the service. In 2015, Roman was demobilized. He miraculously survived that war. In 2017, we got married. We have two sons, Danylo and Maksym. It is very hard for me without Roman. But I feel that he is always with me," says Khrystyna. Her husband Roman Tsyhansky died on February 18, 2023, in a Kyiv hospital as a result of multiple injuries he received on January 7 in the battle for the city of Kreminna in Luhansk region.


Khrystyna in Lviv. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Oleksandra, Starokostiantyniv, Khmelnytskyi region


"Mykola was very erudite, thirsty for new knowledge, and wanted to learn everything about his profession. He took an air force management course in the United States, was a military observer for the UN mission in Sudan, and often traveled abroad on business trips. However, he never talked about working at home. "We would go for walks with the kids, and we would always spend our vacations together. Mykola devoted all his free time to us. After Kolya's death, my mother-in-law asked me if I would have married him if I had known how short our life together would be. Yes, without a doubt, yes. I would have told him every moment how much I loved him!" says Oleksandra.


Oleksandra and her daughter in Starokonstantyniv. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


"You have no idea what kind of father he was. Mykola lost his father very early on, who was also a navigator and died in Africa, leaving three children orphaned! Some kind of fate for two, isn't it?" says Oleksandra. She is now raising three children on her own. Her husband Mykola Savchuk died on February 24, 2022, while performing a combat mission. He bombed a convoy of Russian troops advancing on Kyiv.


Oleksandra visits her husband's grave in Starokostiantyniv. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Oleksandra next to her husband's portrait. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Oleksandra's husband died on February 24, 2022, when his plane was shot down by the Russian military. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Olena, Lviv


"We have lived together for 24 years. We have grown children. I can't even imagine the pain of those women who were left with small children..." says Olena.


Olena in Lviv. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


"I took part in an art workshop for the wives of Heroes and painted us together. I depicted our embrace against the starry sky. It seems to me that my husband is somewhere nearby. He is somewhere around me, in the universe," says Olena. Her husband Andrii Boniun died in Soledar on January 9, 2023.


Olena attends an art therapy workshop in Lviv. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Olena says that now there will always be one empty chair in the house. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Maria, Bubnyshche village, Ivano-Frankivsk region


"Why didn't dad bring me a big doll? Dad promised..." my youngest daughter Sofia asked me and did not understand the answer. The girl is only two years old, and at this age it is difficult to understand the inevitability of death. Sofia knows where the coffin is, runs and shows me that it is her dad. She said: "My dad is completely dead here." Children should not grow up without a father...," says Maria.


Maria with her youngest daughter Sofia. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


"Volodymyr said that he probably wouldn't come back, asking me to take care of the children. We have nine children - seven sons and two daughters. He told us that because of the constant shelling, he didn't even have time to eat. He was a Special Forces soldier and was the first to go into the very hell. It was as if he was anticipating his death, he wanted to say goodbye to everyone and called us. He also called his older sons, Andrii and Volodymyr, who were not at home," Mariia recalls. Her husband Volodymyr Kondrat died on July 27, 2023, near the village of Yampil in Donetsk region.


Mariia keeps her husband's chevrons near the icon on the wall. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


Now Maria is raising nine children on her own. Photo by Kateryna Moskaliuk


 

Kateryna Moskaliuk is a documentary photographer and journalist. She graduated from the School of Journalism at the Ukrainian Catholic University. Her work has been published in Geo, Bloomberg Businessweek, Die Zeit, Bird in Flight, Zaborona, The Ukrainians, Forbes Ukraine, and others, and has been presented at international exhibitions in Ukraine, the UK, the US, France, Germany, Armenia, Japan, and Hong Kong.


Social networks of the photographer:


The project was implemented thanks to the support of The Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation.

 



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