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Fighting For Her Fiancé’s Legacy In Ukraine

Grief made her follow her late fiancé into the Ukrainian army, but seeking vengeance on the front lines isn't bringing her peace. 

Pictures: Anastasiya Blyshchyk

“It was a friend who told me that Oleksandr died,” Anastasiya said, “I don’t remember too well what happened next. I just screamed and screamed.”

This is how Anastasiya Blyshchyk learned that her fiancé was killed in action. It was May 4, 2022.

“For three days, I was in denial, hoping that it was a lie,” Anastasiya recalled, “Then, I got a text from a military medic from Oleksandr’s unit. The text said: ‘I am sorry I could not save him.’ It was the worst thing that could have happened to me.”

Anastasiya’s fiancé, Oleksandr Makhov, volunteered to serve in the Ukrainian army on Feb. 24, 2022, the first day of Russia’s full-scale invasion. He was already an experienced soldier: He had served back in 2015 during the war in Donbas.

Both Anastasiya and Oleksandr worked as journalists. They met in the office of their TV station and fell in love. Anastasiya was the one who accompanied Oleksandr to the conscription office on Feb. 24, 2022.

After her fiancé’s death, the woman surrounded herself with family and work. For a few months, she tried to navigate her loss by overworking herself until in July 2022, she went to the conscription office herself — and joined the Ukrainian army.

She now serves near the Belarusian border.

“I did not come to the frontline to die,” Anastasiya said, “There is war in my country. We cannot win if we all sit and wait for others to protect us. As we speak, someone is getting a phone call that their loved ones have been killed in action while protecting their country heroically. This is hell.”

At War 

“I remember the first day of the full-scale war,” Anastasiya recalled, “I was in Kyiv, and I fell asleep at 3 am. I had some bad feelings. I expected that the full-scale invasion would happen, but I, like most people, didn’t know that we would be bombed right away.”

“Then, in that kitchen where we spent our evenings, chatting about our days and future plans, he hugged me tight, and he said: ‘Forgive me for everything. I love you.'”

Back in February 2022, Anastasiya was working as a journalist at a national TV station. Her fiancé, Oleksandr, was her colleague, and on Feb. 24, 2022, he was in Donbas, a region in Eastern Ukraine, part of which has been under Russian occupation since 2014. He was there to report, but he also knew the area well. Oleksandr served in the East with the Ukrainian army since 2015 when he volunteered to defend his native land. Originally from Donbas himself, Oleksandr’s hometown has been under occupation since 2014.

“Oleksandr called me early on Feb. 24,” Anastasiya continued, “He told me: ‘Anastasiya, Putin announced a full-scale invasion.’ I started calling all my family. My parents were in Kherson region at that time, which is 50 miles from Crimea. My mom thought that I was just very sleepy and didn’t know what I was saying. But after she hung up, she heard the explosions and the movement of Russian tanks. She heard missiles above her head which were flying to destroy Ukrainian cities.”

Kherson region, which links the annexed Crimean peninsula with mainland Ukraine, was one of the first Ukrainian territories to be occupied in 2022.

“I later called my sister in Zaporizhia, and they also heard the missiles,” Anastasiya recalled.

At the time, she was recovering from the coronavirus, so she had been in isolation for a week. The woman left her apartment to get some food and cash. Oleksandr asked her to host some evacuees from the Bakhmut area, so she prepared for their arrival. Then she went to work, carrying her emergency backpack. She was sent to cover any news coming out of the President’s Office.

“We heard some reassurances from them, and then, I asked: How can everything be ok if there are Russian tanks in my native Kherson region?”

A few hours later, Oleksandr returned to Kyiv.

“It felt so normal and cozy with him,” Anastasiya remembered, “He picked me up from work, he showered, and we ate in our small cozy kitchen. I was checking the news all the time. Oleksandr told me: ‘Put away your phone, please, I want to talk to you because I am going to go to the conscription office.’ I said: ‘Wait, you’ve been on the road all day. Why don’t you sleep at home, and tomorrow morning, we will both go to the conscription office.’ And he answered: ‘I won’t be able to sleep because good people are dying there. I have to be there.’ Then, in that kitchen where we spent our evenings, chatting about our days and future plans, he hugged me tight, and he said: ‘Forgive me for everything. I love you.'”

Oleksandr didn’t take any of the food Anastasiya tried to put in his backpack. He said: “We’ve got food in the army, it is not 2014.” Anastasiya still managed to slip a chocolate bar into his pocket. Then, the couple walked to the conscription office. The public transport didn’t work, and all the taxis that passed were full.

“Feb. 24 was very warm,” Anastasiya said, “Oleksandr took off his jacket saying he regretted taking all his warm clothes. Nobody predicted that March would be so cold and snowy, and that the chocolate bar I gave him would be his only food for two days.”

Oleksandr entered the conscription office, and Anastasiya waited outside and watched groups of Ukrainian volunteers being led to the buses. They were all yelling: “Glory to Ukraine. Glory to heroes. Putin is a f***er.”

“I watched how people were hugging and kissing each other as they were sending their loved ones to war,” Anastasiya remembered, “Then, Oleksandr got out. He told me: ‘Remember: 95th assault brigade.’ This is where he was assigned to. I asked him: ‘So are you going to leave right now?’ He said: ‘No, I will stay with you for a bit.’ He held me really tight. I wanted to say something to him, but he said: ‘No, wait’ and held me tighter. And then, he asked me something very surprising. He said: ‘Will you wait for me?’ I said: ‘Of course, I will wait for you.’ He repeated that he loved me and asked for forgiveness again. And then, Oleksandr left.”

Anastasiya Blyshchyk and her fiancé, Oleksandr Makhov in the summer of 2021. Photo provided by Blyshchyk.
Anastasiya Blyshchyk and her fiancé, Oleksandr Makhov in the summer of 2021.

Anastasiya went home alone. She stayed with friends who lived nearby because she did not want to be by herself in the apartment. On that night, there were big explosions just outside Kyiv, but nonetheless, she somehow managed to sleep.

“Emotionally, I was drained,” she said, “My parents were in the Kherson region under Russian occupation, and Oleksandr went to war.”


Anastasiya became a news editor after Oleksandr’s deployment. She wanted to keep a regular schedule so she would have free time to track down ammunition to send to her fiancé and support any other way she could. Oleksandr convinced Anastasiya that the Ukrainian army had everything, but nobody knew then how many people had signed up. Before the full-scale invasion, the Ukrainian army was around 250,000 people. Now, it is about 700,000. She spent the spring months getting updates from Oleksandr, working, and volunteering.

Anastasiya Blyshchyk FaceTiming with fiancé Oleksandr Makhov in the spring of 2022.

Then, on May 4, 2022, Anastasiya received that fateful call: her fiancé was killed in battle.

near Izium in the village of Dovhenke, spring 2022 (2)
Oleksandr Makhov with a drone near Izium in the village of Dovhenke in Spring 2022.
near Izium in the village of Dovhenke, spring 2022 (3)
Makhov near Izium in the village of Dovhenke in March 2022.
near Izium in the village of Dovhenke, spring 2022 (10)
Makhov with a fellow soldier near Izium in the village of Dovhenke in Spring 2022.

For three days, she was in shock.

“On day four, I got a death certificate from the military office which included the time and location of Oleksandr’s death,” Anastasiya said, “And on the fifth day, I buried him. Burying someone young who was killed at war is very scary. I was hoping he was still alive. To be honest, I still hope that someone would tell me that it was all a mistake. My brain understands that Oleksandr died, but I cannot accept the fact that it is forever.”

The day after the burial, Anastasiya went to Zaporizhia to stay with her sister.

“When he died, I had no reasons to live,” she remembered, “We had so many plans, but then, in one day, the plans were gone. There was nothing. I would wake up and not know why I was there on this planet. What’s next? I had never experienced anything like that. We all need plans, but I had none of that. I lost all my senses. This lasted for three weeks. It was the worst period of my life, those three weeks after we buried Oleksandr.”

In June 2022, Anastasiya gathered her strength and returned to the capital.

“I filled my schedule with lots of work, meetings, and tasks so I could come home as tired as possible and fall asleep,” she said, “If I had any energy left, I would not be able to sleep. This is when I realized I wanted to join the army. So I went to the mountains to get some energy from the trip. Oleksandr and I were supposed to go there together this summer. I took his Ukrainian flag with me; it was signed by his fellow soldiers back in 2016 when he first served. When I returned from that trip to Kyiv, I started collecting all the documents and enlisted.”

Anastasiya joined the army on Sept. 4, 2022, three months after Oleksandr died.

When she was mobilized, Anastasiya’s friends asked her: “What would Oleksandr think about it?” Anastasiya’s answer was: “On February 25, when I wanted to sign up for the first time, he supported me.”

In the Army

“Right now, I am stationed near the border with Belarus where I serve as a Press officer of the 47th Assault brigade ‘Magura,’” Anastasiya explained, “Prior to this, I served in the 113th unit in the Kharkiv region.”

Izium, 2022. Behind, there is a destroyed building where around 80 people where killed as a result of the Russian attack (1)
Blyshchyk in Izium in 2022 in front of a building destroyed by Russian forces. Approximately 80 people died in the attack.

It was with 113th unit that Anastasiya entered liberated Izium in mid-September 2022. There, she found the very place where Oleksandr was killed.

“I wanted to serve in the Kharkiv region because this is where he died,” Anastasiya said, “It happened in a village called Dovhenke near Izium. I went there. I asked Oleksandr’s comrades to describe the exact location. The village is huge and nearly destroyed, and I had no connection there. However, whether thanks to intuition or some other sense, I found that spot.”

Anastasiya was there five months to the day after his death.

Now, nearly a year later, she is still on the frontline where she works as a press officer for the army.

“I realized that given my journalistic experience, I can do what I can to make journalists’ work more comfortable so they can cover things better,” she said.

“I want the world to see the crimes committed by Russia, and I want to help journalists document these crimes.”

“We are all soldiers regardless of our job title,” Anastasiya added, “We have to know how to use arms, and we have to be ready to fight when needed. When the enemy attacks, it does not really matter if you’re a cook, a medic, a press officer, or anything else. Everyone is trained to be prepared for everything, so we learned how to shoot and act in all kinds of situations.”

Anastasiya experienced all the hardships the soldiers endure: lack of showers, fitful sleep, and a life without the amenities people take for granted during peace.

“The hardest part is seeing your friends killed,” she said, “I thought that when I’d come to the frontline and get my revenge, it would make it easier for me. But, even though I have seen dead Russians rotting away abandoned by their own soldiers, it does not bring Oleksandr back. Most people don’t understand this about war.”

“People who lost their loved ones at this war feel differently toward death,” the soldier explained, “I am not afraid of getting killed, but I don’t want to die because I have a lot of plans that are connected to Oleksandr. I am afraid of how my death would affect my parents and my sister. I am afraid for them, but I am not afraid of the concept of death. How can I be afraid after what I lived through? I fear for my relatives because I know what it is like to lose someone you love.”

The Future

While Anastasiya was recovering after Oleksandr’s death and enlisting with the army, her parents were under Russian occupation. Originally from the left bank of the Kherson region, they managed to flee to Ukraine-controlled territory in September 2022. Anastasiya visited them for a few days in Zaporizhia where they live now.

“This is when they learned that I was serving the Ukrainian nation,” the woman said.

“I spent my youth in Kherson region, and I left it when I went to the university,” Anastasiya recalled, “I knew classmates and locals from there. Now, many of these people wave Russian flags. I understand that after the liberation, there would be investigations, but those will mostly affect occupation authorities and collaborators. But what would happen to those waving Russian flags? I am convinced that nothing would happen to them. They would just wait it out quietly. However, pro-Ukrainian locals who were resisting and were disgusted by the Russian flags will remind them of everything. They will remind them with words and glances, and those other people would not be able to lift their gaze. They would be ashamed and afraid to go to jail.”

I sense the change in Anastasiya as she says this. Throughout our conversation, we had to take breaks when it got too emotional. But now, Anastasiya’s voice is strong and determined.

“The victory of Ukraine is not when we return to the 1991 borders,” she said, “The victory will take place when each of us will change, and we will understand that our country is strong, and our language is the most powerful weapon, when we overcome corruption, and when we restore all of our destroyed buildings.”

Anastasiya Blyshchyk in Izium on Oct. 8, 2022, after liberation. Photo provided by Blyshchyk.
Anastasiya Blyshchyk in Izium on Oct. 8, 2022, after liberation.

“The most important thing is to be grateful to all our heroes for giving their lives while fighting for Ukraine,” Anastasiya concluded, “I do not want people to forget. We must live and remember. Even after the war, we will have our army, and we need to have respect for all the soldiers. Every hero who died was protecting us, and we will protect and defend their memory.”

For Anastasiya, this is personal: She wants to preserve her memory of Oleksandr. Her fiancé was awarded the Order for Courage posthumously by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Kyiv, Oleksandr Makhov street, nov 22, Anastasiya is installing a sign in honor of the street name
Blyshchyk installs a sign in honor of fiancé Makhov on Makhov Street in Kyiv in November 2022.

There is also a street in the capital of Ukraine that is named after Oleksandr, and there is another street in Izium, that was liberated thanks to soldiers like him. Anastasiya vows to protect Oleksandr’s legacy as she keeps serving Ukraine.

All photos were provided by Anastasiya Blyshchyk.

Anna Romandash


Anna Romandash is an award-winning journalist from Ukraine.


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