Note from the editors: Sadly, there are now countless fallen Ukrainian heroes who have given their lives to defend Ukraine since Feb. 24, and since Russian forces invaded Crimea and Donbas in spring 2014 . We are unable to tell all their stories, but from time to time we try to bring home the harsh realities of Russia’s war against Ukraine by featuring individual cases.  Here’s one more from one of our correspondents. It is the case of Yaroslav Mokhonko.

It saddens me that I did not know Yarik while he was alive. But I am very proud that I learned of him after his death. Now, in my opinion, Mokhonko is one of the coolest military men whose life story I have heard.

Oleksandr, the deceased’s father, told me about him. He showed us the house and village where Yarik grew up, as well as the grave in which  he now rests.

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Yaroslav was born two months after Ukraine became an independent country. While Ukraine is now 31 years old, he will forever be 30.

Who is Yaroslav Mokhonko?

Eight years ago, when Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula and occupied Eastern Ukraine, the Mokhonko family went to the front. In particular, Oleksandr, the head of the family, and his sons Yaroslav and Ihor.

In so doing, all of them joined the resistance to Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine. At that time, the eldest son, 22-year-old Yaroslav, joined the 72nd Separate Mechanized Brigade named after the Black Zaporozhians. There he received the call sign “Yariy”.

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The boy was already performing combat missions in Volnovakha in spring 2014, then he helped to liberate occupied Mariupol, Marynivka, Amvrosiivka, Krasnoarmiiske, Antratsyt, Savur-Mohyla, Snizhne, Krasnopartizansk, Krasny Don, and Sontseve. These were some of the hottest battle points in Donbas at that time.

And in July 2014, Yaroslav was concussed and received a spinal cord injury when he was surrounded near Izvaryne. It was after this that his military service had to be interrupted. Then the man started volunteering. He helped his comrades with equipment all the time.

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Ihor is currently in the intelligence field, so it is not possible to talk about his current activities.

After the full-scale invasion had begun, on Feb. 25, Oleksandr together with Yaroslav rejoined the ranks of the 72nd Brigade. In particular, “Yariy”, having connections to volunteers, independently organized ammunition and transport for his boys. And later became a platoon commander.

“My dad is an angel” – three-year-old Nika

Yaroslav died on June 26 while performing a combat mission. Three more of his fighters were with him. His father recalled the last conversation he had with his son:

“We all understood that these are extremely dangerous positions. And I approached him. I said, ‘son, maybe it’s not worth it? Maybe we should stop? You have a little baby waiting at home.’ And he answered me: ‘Dad, there are also small children there. If we don’t protect them, then who will?”, says Oleksandr. His voice trembles.

More than four months have passed by. All this time, Yarik’s father has been chastising himself, saying that it’s his fault that he did not insist Yarik stay.

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Good-hearted Yaroslav, even in the throes of death, saved the lives of others. Because thanks to fighting between four Ukrainian soldiers and Kadyrov troops, the guys who were in the positions behind discovered that the enemy was very close.

At home, Yaroslav is survived by his wife Natalya and three-year-old daughter Nika. Just before our arrival, the girl burst into tears again because she misses her father. She does not yet know what death is, so it was simply explained to her that dad is in heaven protecting the family like an angel.

Nika likes to go into the room, where there are many photos and belongings of her father. And even though she is still so young, she says that she is not afraid of anything, because she was taught that way.

Yarik’s mother still cannot recover. And his father continues to participate in hostilities. He tattooed a warrior’s arrow on his arm, like his son’s. He says he wants to continue the path of Yaroslav.

Why “Yarik” Cannot Receive the title of Hero of Ukraine

Today, the street on which he lived all his life has been renamed in honor of the fallen soldier. However, the titles that Yaroslav earned during his lifetime cannot be awarded even after his death. Hero of Ukraine is the highest national title that can be conferred upon an individual citizen by the president of Ukraine.

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For more than four months now, the family has been appealing to every possible authority for President Zelensky to give Yaroslav Mokhonko the title of Hero of Ukraine. His fellow brothers in arms, whose lives he saved on more than one occasion, also wrote letters. As did national lawmakers and  Metropolitan Epiphany of Kyiv and All Ukraine, the head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. An electronic petition was also posted on the website of the President’s Office to grant Yaroslav a rank to a serviceman. More than 25,000 Ukrainians have already signed it. That is the minimum number of signatures that needs to be collected over a period of no more than 90 days for a petition to be considered by the president of Ukraine.

However, in order for Zelensky to consider this document, an appeal from the military unit where Mokhonko served is also required. Relatives also sent appeals, but no answer has yet been forthcoming.

After telling me this whole story, Yaroslav’s father, sitting next to his son’s grave, without holding back his tears, once again underlined:

“My son is a hero for me. For everyone who knew him. And for whoever has heard of him. My son lived for his country. And he died for his country. I will not be able to live if I do not bring all his affairs to a close. And he will be awarded the title of Hero of Ukraine. I promise.”

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