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

Earlier than battle got here to his village, 12-year-old Tymophiy Z. had lots of the normal 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 often 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 nervous him.

These boyhood musings had been interrupted by a horrible noise within the sky on Feb. 24. Tens of hundreds 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 Occasions)

“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, often known as Serozha, hid within the cellar.

The dad and mom started speaking about attempting to go away. However to the place? They hesitated.

On the morning of March 8, lower than two weeks into the battle, the couple slipped out with out waking the boys. The village market, a brief distance away, was nonetheless open, they usually 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, heart, and Olena Streelets of their dwelling with their nephew Tymophiy.

(Kyrylo Svietashov / For The Occasions)

After a number of hours, Timophiy wrote later, his mom known as him. She was frantic. Russian armored automobiles had been rumbling via the village’s slender lanes. She advised him to seize Seraphim and conceal within the rest room. He didn’t understand it then, however it could be their final dialog.

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

Tymophiy, whose full title is being withheld as a result of he’s a minor, was nervous however not unduly so. The frenzy of occasions — the thunder of artillery, Seraphim’s antics, settling into their aunt and uncle’s cramped dwelling — stored 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 dwelling in Shevchenkove, Ukraine.

(Kyrylo Svietashov / For The Occasions)

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 purple ink, he drew a horned satan with offended darts capturing 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 a whole bunch 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 briefly 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 they’d 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 dad and mom.

(Kyrylo Svietashov / For The Occasions)

The household needed a correct funeral, however it needed to look ahead to an exhumation and examination by forensics consultants and investigators, who had been accumulating what was quickly changing into a mountain of battle 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 recent 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 Occasions)

The battle in Ukraine has been uniquely horrific for its youngsters. About one-third of them, greater than 7.5 million children, are displaced from their houses, in keeping with United Nations estimates. No less than 348 youngsters have been reported killed as of mid-July, Ukrainian officers mentioned, 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 pictures of tiny corpses.

Two boys play with toys in a room.

Timophiy and Seraphim play of their room.

(Kyrylo Svietashov / For The Occasions)

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

Typically, relations who’re uncovered repeatedly to the sight of useless and maimed family members, particularly the youngest victims, beg for a respite from the graphic pictures. However they hold coming.

Earlier than the Russian invasion, Ukraine already had at the least 100,000 orphans, many residing in grim circumstances 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 a whole bunch of kids ending up inside Russia correct and put up for adoption, in keeping with Ukrainian officers.

On daily basis at 8 a.m., Daria Herasymchuk, an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on youngsters’s affairs, receives a recap of yesterday’s occasions, together with the newest on youngsters killed, wounded, lacking or believed deported. Or left motherless or fatherless, or each.

“It’s the worst moment of the day,” she mentioned. “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 Occasions)

Lena mentioned 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 dwelling — would absorb Tymophiy and Seraphim. Nevertheless it’s an amazing process.

Their run-down home consists of three tiny rooms: the bed room, kitted out with new bunk beds for the boys; a front room 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 exterior 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 massive as him, rolls round on the ground, waving his ft within the air. He giggles and shrieks, however although seemingly thirsty for consideration, he’s far much less verbal than most youngsters his age.

A boy climbs over a wall opening.

Seraphim performs within the household’s yard.

(Kyrylo Svietashov / For The Occasions)

“We have to take shifts with him,” mentioned 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 major pastime nowadays is accumulating “frags” from village lanes and yards — heavy, jagged bits of shell casings and rockets, which he likes to thrust into guests’ palms.

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

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

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

Tymophiy holds a kitten whereas his uncle Serihy Provornov seems to be at household photographs.

(Kyrylo Svietashov / For The Occasions)

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

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

Lena and Serihy are adamant the boys shouldn’t be separated, and need to hold each of them. However the scenario 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 mentioned. He generally writes in what he describes as a non-public code, and makes different entries in invisible ink. He willingly exhibits 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 preserving has turned as unusual because the upside-down world round him.

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

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 Occasions)

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

A few of the household cats disappeared in the course of the combating, however others made their approach dwelling or had been born weeks later. Tymophiy scooped up a limp-looking grey kitten, nuzzling it. That helps him sleep, he mentioned.

Lena, a decade older than her useless 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 Occasions)

However as a single mom nonetheless in her 20s, Yulia rallied and completed her training in Kyiv, Lena mentioned. She bought 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 beginning of a child, Seraphim.

Lena was godmother to each boys. Years in the past, she would take Tymophiy to high school 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 chortle.

In her sister’s place, she mentioned, she would do her finest to mom them.

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