‘Oh my daughter’: Volunteer medic, 29, buried in Ukraine


VINNYTSIA, Ukraine — As the mom’s cries of anguish pierced the chilly morning air, mourners who had fought again tears might maintain them now not.

“Oh Yana, oh my daughter,” Olena Rikhlitska howled. “My baby, my little one.”

Her solely little one, 29-year-old Yana Rikhlitska, lay in a coffin earlier than her, the youthful lady’s blonde hair nonetheless within the tight braids she adopted when she voluntarily joined the Ukrainian military as a medic late final yr.

Just over per week in the past, Associated Press journalists filmed Yana Rikhlitska as she helped deal with wounded troopers in a subject hospital exterior Bakhmut, which Russian forces have pulverized throughout a three-sided assault to grab town in japanese Ukraine.

Just a few days later she was useless. Rikhlitska and one other medic had been killed by shelling as they shuttled between the sphere hospital and the entrance line.

As associates, colleagues and family members gathered Tuesday in her house metropolis of Vinnytsia in central Ukraine to bid her a closing farewell, they remembered an individual stuffed with vitality and spurred by a life-long drive to assist others.

“She was really friendly and kind,” mentioned Viktor Fateyev, 39, a colleague from the IT firm the place she labored within the human sources division. “She was like a mother to everyone; she was the focus point everyone gathered around.”

Rikhlitska was in Brazil simply earlier than Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. She spent a number of months within the South American nation training capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial artwork, Fateyev mentioned, clutching a bunch of yellow tulips as he waited to pay his respects on the funeral.

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She flew house after the invasion, he mentioned, and immediately started fundraising and dealing as a volunteer for troops to assist the Ukrainian protection effort. It wasn’t lengthy earlier than she determined to change into a front-line medic.

He noticed her within the AP video when it aired, Fateyev mentioned, and posted it in a bunch chat of her co-workers. “Everyone was so excited,” he mentioned. “And then, the next day…” he trailed off.

Tetiana Obraztsova, 30, a member of a volunteer fight medic group who met Rikhlitska in September, mentioned Rikhlitska ferried humanitarian help to Bakhmut even earlier than she grew to become a medic. Russia has been making an attempt to seize town for six months.

“She did all that she could, right from the start of the full-scale war,” Obraztsova mentioned.

Fellow volunteer Anastasia Muzyka, 29, recalled Rikhlitska as brilliant, variety and indefatigable.

“She was fiery, in a good way. She was so dedicated. It was like she was never tired,” Muzyka mentioned. In fight, ultimately even troopers must relaxation, she added, “but not Yara. She was always there, helping everyone.”

It was throughout her volunteer work in August that she met her future husband, Oleksandr, who was within the Ukrainian military. Amid the din of warfare, their love blossomed, and the couple married on Dec. 31, 2022.

“She was fire, the fire that cannot be extinguished.” mentioned Oleksandr, who would solely give his first identify.

Childhood pal Snizhana Zaliubivska, 28, remembered Rikhlitska displaying a need to assist at the same time as just a little woman. The two had misplaced contact lately, however Zaliubivska was devastated to listen to of her pal’s loss of life.

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“It wasn’t a surprise that she was volunteering. She was a true patriot of the country,” she mentioned. “She would never refuse anyone, she was always helping everyone who would ask.”

Draped with the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag, Rikhlitska’s coffin was transported to the army part of the native cemetery and opened as soon as extra. Ashen-faced, her mom gently stroked her daughter’s cheek, and kissed her one final time.

“No, no!” Olena Rikhlitska sobbed because the coffin was carried to the grave and lowered to the sound of a gun salute. Only the help of her husband, Mykola, and one other relative prevented her from sinking to the bottom.

Behind them, row upon row of Ukrainian flags fluttered above the graves of the warfare useless, snapping within the breeze.

Vasilisa Stepanenko contributed reporting.

Follow AP’s protection of the warfare in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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