Viktor Yatsunyk died while serving his duty and saving wounded soldiers from the battlefield on September 17, 2022,  It’s a devastating loss for family, friends, brothers from the Skala [the rock] battalion, for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and all of Ukraine, just like it has been for every single one of the heroes who have given their lives to bring our victory closer and preserve our independence. We realize how much Ukrainian defenders risk every second and at what cost every centimeter of liberated Ukrainian land comes – too high a price. Just like it was with Viktor, call sign Brytanets [British guy].

FRIENDS MISSING BRYTANETS

“Thanks to Viktor – Brytanets – I believe that, in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, there are people who truly care about one another,” said Yury, the commander of the Skala battalion.

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He explained that Viktor came to his unit as a volunteer because he was still serving in the British army. Having terminated the contract, Brytanets immediately joined Skala battalion. Alongside an ardent dedication to task completion, Brytanets brought a lot of military gear and winter clothes for the soldiers. Yury described how Viktor wanted to support every soldier and make sure everyone was taken care of. He said his communication with Brytanets was always mutually enriching and particularly encouraging during this dark time for Ukraine.

“When I gave him some tasks or instructions he would never overreact or get defensive. He would always say, ‘Skala, I am with you!’ We would always find a common language. Moreover, military men of all levels and ranks would treat him with so much respect because he was so open and sincere. He would always shine with a smile on his face. I still can’t believe such a tragedy happened,” he reminisced.

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Commander Yury, also with the call sign Skala [the rock], says as the head of the unit he can’t let emotions take over. The war is not over yet, so he must control himself. Though, he adds, that with the death of Brytanets a part of his heart is torn out.

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Victor’s battle brother from the Skala battalion, Olexiy Gagarin, describes his friendship with Brytanets as something memorable and adds he can’t imagine that their communication would result in anything but becoming great buddies.

It hurts me to lose my brothers. All this time, since 2015, I tried not to build strong, friendly relations with military men because I understood that different things could happen. It is a war. But with Viktor I just couldn’t help but make friends. No one could resist that,” recalls Gagarin.

Photo credit: Olga German.

Gagarin met Brytanets when he decided to join Skala battalion. They went to Dnipro together to officially register and join the Armed Forces of Ukraine. As Olexiy adds, they became friends from the first minute due to their common thirst for positivity and good spirit no matter what. For example, Viktor’s impeccable English helped to entertain Ukrainian people and make them believe he was a foreigner. Such pranks became a tradition because bringing smiles to people’s faces was in Brytanets’s nature.

Bryt had this kind of positivity, and he infected others with it. He had his own approach to each person, he had something nice and caring to say. There are always some interesting presents he would give purely out of his kindness and generosity. Very few feel psychologically ok in this war, but Viktor would always manage to support, motivate, and encourage those around him.

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Volodymyr, call sign Med [Medicine], from the Skala battalion, explains how literally everyone in their unit wanted to support Viktor’s family at this dark moment of loss and to express condolences.

Because of the context of the war and countless tasks in bringing victory closer, sadly, only a few members of the Skala battalion could come to the funeral in Ternopil.

Gagarin explains, they plan to organize a service and commemorate Viktor with many others who couldn’t attend as soon as the circumstances allow.

He admits it was extremely difficult for him to see the pain of Vitia’s relatives, and it’s impossible to find any words to heal such a wound of loss. No one really believes the tragedy that happened: It seems just yesterday that he and Brytanets were making common plans for the future.

Sofia Vasylivna and Ihor Maryn. Photo credit: Olga German.

“We all still haven’t accepted that Bryt is no longer with us. Repeatedly, several times a day, as part of some dialogue, we would be like ‘I’ll go to Bryt. I’ll take something from Bryt.’ We cannot talk about him in the past tense. Perhaps, some realization will come later. Viktor is not here physically, but he is with us, somewhere in our heads. We can consult with him in our thoughts. It is a very short time that we spent together, but it is very precious to me. Vitia will stay with me forever.”

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Bohdan, call sign Metr (meter), witnessed the tragedy that happened to Brytanets because he was on a rescue mission with him of battlefield wounded and other soldiers. That day a landmine took the life of two heroes – Viktor and Ivan, call sign Sadyst [sadist]. When the explosion happened, Bohdan did his best to provide first aid and assist in all the ways possible. He adds he wishes he could do more. Metr says that everyone in the Skala battalion misses the late heroes. Even two Russian captives were shocked upon the news about Bryt. One of them even cried, shared Bohdan.

“Brytanets had a versatile personality. People wanted to be around him. Losing good soldiers is difficult, but when these great soldiers are also amazing people, there are no words to describe this. No one is safe from anything. It is a war: Let’s not forget this. I’m sure Viktor was double-checking, looking down, but he just didn’t notice the wire. He was always careful and taught us that. Sadly, there is no 100 percent checklist on how not to get into trouble at war. Here everyone does their best, and the rest is a matter of chance,” explained Bohdan.

Photo credit: Olga German.

Viktor’s close friend James Vasquez said Bryt’s courage was an example for everyone to look up to:

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“He could have told another soldier to do that task, but he was the first one to run in. It is true leadership. He was just a selfless individual. He died a hero. A true hero. I am sure he will be memorialized in many ways. Particularly, in Ukraine´s history. If there is a medal of honor in Ukraine or an equivalent, he deserves that,” said Vasquez.

Viktor and James met through Bryt’s friend Ihor Maryn, when Vasquez came to Ukraine. James is an American military veteran who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still shocked by the stories of his grandmother from Latvia whose whole family was slaughtered by the Russians during WW II, Vasquez wanted to prevent Ukrainian people from going through such tremendous cruelty. He headed to Ukraine to join the foreign legion. While on his trip, the base he was going to was attacked. There was a lot of havoc as he arrived. James took Viktor’s suggestion to go and fight in Kyiv together and after that they were never apart, which is proven by every single video taken on the battlefield. Literally and figuratively, they were going through this war shoulder to shoulder, declared Vasquez.

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“We were together from day one. Our friendship was born right there. We would get strength through each other. We just picked each other up. Viktor was one of the very few leaders who doesn’t just go for ranks, bark orders, and walk away. He was so concerned about everyone. He always took care of everybody, and always made sure everybody was OK.” 

Maryn experienced both volunteering and fighting for Ukraine alongside Brytanets. He hadn’t served before, and two rotations spent with Bryt were life-changing for him. It turned them into almost relatives, he claimed:

“I was a happy person for these 60 days in Vitia’s company. Viktor had an open soul and was a real patriot in the full sense of the word. It’s not about wearing the national embroidered shirt, which, of course, should be appreciated and loved, but mostly about the heart. Viktor had a family, children, and a great job, but returned to the place where he was born to help. Life and death walk close at war. The relationships are brighter. People akin in spirit become brothers. Our friendship wasn’t too long, but it seems that years have passed. What a heavy loss,” shared Maryn

Bryt’s buddy Olexandra, call sign Mara [ghost], called Viktor a unique masterpiece and a sunny person:

“Despite the hard work and the horrors of war Brytanets has been through, he found a ray in himself and gave it to others. He knew how to not just live, but enjoy every moment, and shared this with people,” said Olexandra.

Upon joining the Skala battalion, call sign Seraphim, [angel], easily found a common language with Viktor whom he called a caring person and a great mentor:

“At first, he seemed strict, and then he became both father and mother to all of us. He cared about everyone. He knew how to do absolutely everything. He always behaved honorably. Bryt used to give me really useful advice all the time. He taught me to be respectful of people and had a principle that ‘a Ukrainian soldier must always be tolerant. Emotions are to be kept under control. Here you are a defender, a representative of the Ukrainian nation’,” recalled Seraphim.

The paramedics from the Skala, Matylda and Livesey battalions pointed out that Viktor was a good friend  and a commander who was always there for the soldiers, supporting them spiritually. Buddies from Skala battalion Dmytro, Khrest [cross] and Cowboy remember that Bryt always taught them the most essential skills during military training, and all the gear he brought was really useful – not delivered just for the sake of it.

James Vasquez, Ihor Maryn, and Viktor’s son Danylko. Photo credit: Olga German.

Viktor’s brother from Skala, Oleksandr, call sign Cherep (Skull) started as a volunteer just like Brytanets. Cherep shared that he observed the war made people tougher and even emotionless, yet, Victor was an exception. Moreover, he was the opposite of indifferent, as Oleksandr describes:

“I have lived for 50 years and have seen very few people like Viktor. Vitia did not lose his humanity with age. In this horrible torture Ukraine is going through, he remained a person who was preoccupied with other people’s problems. He understood all the troubles of our soldiers. You could come to him with any issue – be it having a hole in your sock or something to do with the military machinery – Bryt would respond and begin solving the problem immediately. Brytanets has never refused a single person. Well, how to describe in words this grief – losing a friend? Truth be told, the best people die.”

***

My encounter with Viktor was quite short, but I saw constant, multiple illustrations of his selfless personality, which  his relatives and friends described so vividly. I watched Brytanets help the local community in Izium, check up on his brothers from the Skala – cracking jokes to make them smile in this bleak time.

He even gave some winter boots to my father and I so we can keep warm. During our conversation, Viktor Yatsunyk shared how much he missed his wife Iuliia, his kids Danylo and Stefania, and wished to visit his parents in Ternopil. Yet, he added, he was staying in Ukraine until we win this war.

Despite the tragedy, Viktor is a victor because his dedication to his motherland and selflessness continue inspiring people to fight for freedom:

“My friends from the British army say ‘Slava Ukraini’ instead of just ‘Hey there!’ when giving me a call. As Stepan Bandera said, the time will come when one will say ‘Glory to Ukraine!’, and all of Ukraine will say: ‘Glory to the Heroes!’ And it turns out not only all of Ukraine, but the whole world chants it in our support. The biggest racist is Putin, he made everyone fall in love with Ukraine, no matter how funny it sounds. Everything will be Ukraine! As Taras Shevchenko wrote, ‘And there will be a house, and there will be a mother, and there will be people on earth.’ Keep fighting – you are sure to win! Slava Ukraini!”  proudly proclaimed Viktor Yatsunyk – Brytanets – with a sunny smile on his face.

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