Nearly 1,000 people honor a young Ukrainian journalist and volunteer combat medic killed in action


KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Nearly 1,000 people attended a ceremony Sunday honoring the memory of Ukrainian journalist Iryna Tsybukh, who was killed in action while serving as a volunteer combat medic a few days before her 26th birthday.

Tsybukh was killed while on rotation in the Kharkiv area, where Russia started its offensive nearly a month ago.

She had left a note describing how she wished the ceremony to be held, asking people to sing Ukrainian songs and attend in vyshyvankas — traditional embroidered shirts — instead of black clothes.

“I want everyone to sing at the farewell, to learn at least 10 meaningful songs and sing them in unison, to extinguish sorrow with native songs,” she wrote. And instead of flowers, she said, she asked people to make donations to the Hospitallers Volunteer Medical Batallion, in which she served.

A large crowd gathered in the courtyard of Kyiv’s St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, where the memorial service was held. People later joined a column that moved to central Independence Square, a ritual that has become common during funerals of servicemen killed in action.

As the wide column went along central Mykhailivska Street, passing the stores and restaurants, people turned to the streets and those who were walking stopped to pay tribute to Tsybukh. Some knelt, including children, and men took off their caps and held them to their hearts. The crowd was chanting “Heroes don’t die,” while wiping away tears.

Tsybukh’s death sparked wide reaction on social media, where her letter went viral for several days after her death.

“Today everything is behind me, my life has ended, and it was important for me to live it with dignity: to be an honest, kind, and loving person,” she said in the letter that she wrote a year ago while serving in the embattled Donetsk region. Her brother shared it, as she wished, on Instagram.

“To have the strength to be a free person, one must be brave,” she wrote.

As the column arrived at Independence Square, hundreds knelt as the closed casket covered with the blue-yellow national flag was placed at the front. Thousands of people wore vyshyvankas, which are usually worn for celebrations, and took turns to approach the casket.

Tsybukh’s close friends distributed printed lyrics of the songs that she wished to be sung during her funeral, including songs that have become symbolic of Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s armed aggression.

“We will sing each passing minute, in honor of how she saved the military with every minute,” said one of Tsybukh’s friends through the loudspeaker.

For two hours, people continued to approach the casket to say goodbye.

A funeral is scheduled to be held on Monday in Tsybukh’s hometown of Lviv.

Among those attending the memorial service were many soldiers, activists, journalists and people who followed Tsybukh on social media.

“I am very grateful to everyone who is here today because it means we are united, we are strong, we will endure,” said Tsybukh’s friend Kateryna Serdiuk. “Her cause will live on because we are alive and we will carry on”

For the past two years, funerals in Ukraine have become daily occurrences.

“The realization that our best are dying shatters the heart into pieces that can never be put back together,” said Serdiuk.

Before Russia’s invasion, Tsybukh was part of the managing team who implemented reforms of Ukraine’s public broadcaster Suspilne, she also oversaw educational projects in remote villages in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

She joined the Hospitallers, a volunteer unit, shortly after the outbreak of the war. She had previously completed several rotations since 2014, when Russia first started armed aggression in eastern Ukraine. Tsybukh facilitated the evacuation of wounded soldiers from the battlefield and provided many with first aid. In November she received the Order of Merit, 3rd class, from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“I am a young girl just like any in France or Spain. The only difference is that we have a totalitarian regime on our border that attacked the country I love dearly,” she said in interview with Elle in 2022. “That is why I defend my country, and I am ready to die to have freedom in my country.”

At least 91 media workers have been killed since the outbreak of the war, according to the National Union of Journalists of Ukraine.



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