The children of the fallen soldiers of Ukraine spend Father’s Day in new grief

LVIV, Ukraine – In the heat of the late afternoon sun, Oksana Stepanenko’s sweat mingled with tears streaming down her face as she rearranged flowers at her husband’s grave.

This was the first Father’s Day for her daughter Maria without her father. The two had come on Sunday to visit a military cemetery on the outskirts of Lviv in western Ukraine, where he had been buried weeks earlier.

“My mother chose them,” Maria, 8, said of the caramel candies she had placed next to the wooden cross on her father’s grave.

Maria was one in a steady stream of grieving children who on Sunday paid tribute to their fathers, soldiers who had died in recent weeks in battles on the Far Eastern Front in battles against Russian forces.

And as the graves of soldiers continue to grow with each passing day in the now overcrowded Lichakov Cemetery, the grim reality is that there will be many more fatherless children who will join the ranks of mourning.

Another young woman, whose 26-year-old boyfriend had been killed weeks earlier, said she saw dozens of young children walk through the cemetery on Sunday afternoon.

“It’s just awful,” she said, her eyes swollen and her hands trembling with grief.

As the intense fighting in eastern Ukraine continues to take more lives, President Vladimir Zelenski, who has a daughter and a son, praised the fathers who offered their service to the country.

“Being a father is a great responsibility and a great happiness,” said the Ukrainian leader in an Instagram post on Sunday. “It’s strength, wisdom, motivation to move forward and not give up. And no matter how difficult it is – to keep and protect the most valuable. Thank you, our heroes. ”

But for those who are concerned with the reality of losing a father, the grief is harsh.

Olha Hnatishin, 21, said she could not shake the feeling that her father, who had been a long-distance truck before the war, would suddenly return home.

“It’s hard to believe he’s gone,” she said. “Looks like we’re still waiting for him.”

Miss. Hnatishin and her friend rode their bicycles to her father’s grave to honor him on a day she would normally spend next to him. Her younger brother was grieving the loss, she said, and had come to visit the grave only once.

But for her, Lichakov Cemetery has become a place of comfort. She visits him every day to be close to her father, she said.

“I’m taking a blanket with me,” she said. “And I sit down and talk to him and tell him how the day went.”

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