On Saturday, hundreds of Kyivans, Mayor Vitali Klitschko and the film director Oleg Sentsov among them, gathered in front of St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery to pay their respects to the activist turned soldier Roman Ratushniy, who was killed fighting Russian troops on the eastern front on June 9, aged 24.
Pictures of Ratushniy have been widely shared on social media since his death was announced by the Ukrainian military. A Kyiv native, he seemed headed for a bright future that he wanted to devote to his country — like many young people from his generation.
While Ukrainians have sadly grown accustomed to such tragic news over the past four months, Ratushniy’s death is a heavy blow to civil society, and a loss that goes well beyond the young man’s immediate circle.
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‘The best guy’
The son of a renowned Ukrainian writer, Svitlana Povalyaeva, and a journalist, Taras Ratushniy, Ratushniy was a beautiful, promising young man whom Klitschko describes as: “The best guy, representative of a generation. He was born in independent Ukraine, and was very proactive to defend our country on the front. He had great ideas and had such a positive personality. He died, but at the same time, he is still in our hearts and memories, and we will keep his name alive.”
Larger than life, Ratushniy was “the kind of person that doesn’t leave anyone indifferent,” says Zhora, a writer and childhood friend of his, who had been exiled in Berlin since the beginning of Russia’s invasion and has returned to offer support for Ratushniy’s family and friends. “I never thought I would be coming back to Ukraine for that reason, and I really wish you could have met him while he was alive, to see just how magnetic his personality was,” Zhora says. “He always tried to do good. From a very young age, he was passionate about his country. He was a big inspiration and a generator of energy around. From the protests on the Maidan to later on, when he defended other projects, he always knew what to do and how to create, in order to change things.”
Ratushniy was charismatic, but he was also much more than that: By his actions as an activist for civil rights and for the environment, he embodied the hope of an entire generation fighting for a fair, modern and democratic Ukraine. As a teenager, he was arrested and beaten after taking part in the November 2013 protests at the start of the Maidan Uprising against Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych. A few years later, he campaigned to prevent an oligarch from building a residential complex over a woodland in his central Kyiv neighborhood of Protasiv Yar, which resulted in his arrest and death threats against him. Still, he continued to fight for what he believed in.
He joined the armed forces after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, a decision that didn’t surprise his loved ones. And his story has inspired others: On the day of his funeral, hundreds of people, from all walks of life mourned Ratushniy’s death, another young Ukrainian lost. Some held candles, others wrapped themselves into the Ukrainian flag. Soldiers in uniform paid last respects to one of their own.
After the ceremony, air raid sirens broke the sky above Kyiv. Even at this hour of mourning, there was no respite from the war. Yet no one even seemed to notice as the procession to the Maidan began, as the crowd chanted defiantly: “Slava Ukraini, Heroyem Slava” — “Glory to Ukraine, Glory to our Heroes.”
The determination of an entire nation is still there, but so is the sadness. One among hundreds, the Ratushniy’s feels like a terrible, unnecessary waste for Ukraine.
Since February, on a daily basis, the country is being robbed of an entire generation of its capable youth, whose dreams are being abruptly crushed by this war.