Local Report】Volunteers’ Heartbreaking Experiences in War-Torn Ukraine | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Local Report】Volunteers’ Heartbreaking Experiences in War-Torn Ukraine

Volunteers identify bodies in Bucha, the "City of Slaughter". An Asian restaurant in Kyiv that raises funds through crowdfunding and distributes 1,000 meals a day to soldiers and medical personnel. A commercial creator who rescues stranded pets and finds new owners. A priest who donates his property free of charge and turns it into a mass grave for the dead

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Dmytro feeds a dog on a street in Irpin. Many people have been forced to evacuate, leaving their pets behind.

A gray-haired woman wearing a red jumper rushed into the white tent. Sitting down on a chair, she confided in a volunteer who was handling the situation.

“A relative has been missing since she left home in early March. There is a lot of information mixed in, but we don’t know for sure, and there is a possibility that she was taken hostage. He had a tattoo on her leg, but I don’t remember what kind of pattern it was.”

 The white-haired woman began to shed large tears, which were soothed by the volunteers around her.

The white tent was set up inside the Bucha Municipal Hospital near the capital city of Kyiv, with a morgue on the side. The bodies found in the suburbs of Kyiv were brought there, and in late April, the identification of the bodies was underway. The morgue also provides psychological care for the families of the deceased who are confronted with the bodies, and handles calls from families whose relatives have gone missing.

Anna, 41, a psychiatrist, began to explain, holding a list of the deceased. The mugshots on the list were all disfigured, probably due to exposure to bullets. Next to the photos are descriptions of their ages, clothing, and other characteristics.

“We are trying to identify the bodies based on this information, but there are still more than 100 bodies that we don’t know about yet. The other day, a woman came to retrieve the bodies of her 5-year-old child and her husband and broke down in tears.”


Anna has been counseling soldiers since the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

“Some soldiers have difficulty communicating with others because the sound of gunfire lingers in their ears or they have lost their purpose in life. I volunteered for this project because I had been providing psychological care to such soldiers. We have also received online consultations from about 70 women from the area occupied by the Russian army.”

A few hundred meters away from the morgue, behind St. Andrew’s Church, more than 100 bodies believed to have been massacred by the Russian army were temporarily buried in a mass grave. According to Andrei, 49, a priest at the church, the site of the mass burial was chosen because of an offer from the mayor of Bucha.

He said, “All the morgues were full, so they asked us to rent the area behind the church. Most of the bodies were shot dead. Only one of them was a Chechen soldier, and I thought it was the body of an enemy, but he was a human being.”

After the outbreak of war in Ukraine, people volunteered to serve their country one after another out of a desire to help their country.

Spicy No Spicy, an Asian restaurant located in a residential area in the center of Kyiv, has been distributing meals to soldiers, regional defense units, and hospitals since the full invasion by Russian troops began.

“One day in late April, I took a peek into the kitchen and found the seven staff members working quickly and efficiently. They were preparing spaghetti and mushroom soup.” According to Vasil, 23, the sous-chef, they prepare about 1,000 meals a day.

“We advertise on social networking sites and use the money we raise to buy ingredients. We used to make about 2,000 meals in the beginning, but Kyiv has calmed down, so we have cut that in half.”

Vasil’s thoughts on volunteering are as follows: 

I wanted to be of service to my country because my friends were in the local defense force. I will continue to cook until there is no longer a need.”

At a bakery near the restaurant, Vitali, 32, the factory manager, was hard at work baking bread for distribution. His wife, 31, and daughter, 5, are living as evacuees in another city.

“I haven’t seen my daughter for more than a month,” he said. “I brought in a TV and game console from home and have been staying overnight to work. I have so much to do that I hardly slept last night.”


It is volunteers who cook the meals, it is also volunteers who transport them. Sergey, 48, the president of a trading company, drove to pick up the bread and other goods that Vitali and his team had made.

“The war has interrupted the company’s operations, but we are living on what we have saved so far,” he said. “I volunteer so that Ukraine can win.”

People are not the only ones being helped. Many of the displaced people left their pets at home.


In mid-April in a residential area of Irpin, near Khiu, where the fighting was fierce, Dmytro, 42, a commercial creator, was offering dog food to a German shepherd. He took the time to let his guard down and finally rescued him in his car.

He said, “There was help being offered to soldiers and displaced people, but animals abandoned by their owners didn’t get much attention. Besides, the war had taken away my commercial work.”

He started out with his wife, but eventually a group of colleagues got together, and now he makes daily trips to the outskirts of Kyiv; when he gets a call through social networking sites or by phone, he heads to the scene. For cats and dogs that are still locked in their rooms, he drills a hole in the door and feeds them through a straw. He also encountered a tense scene where he used a stepladder to rescue them from a third or fourth-floor window.


“We’ve rescued about 800 dogs and cats so far,” he said. “Most of them have found new owners, but we take care of pets that have nowhere else to go. At one point, we were taking care of 35 pets at the same time.”

Behind the scenes in war-ravaged Ukraine are volunteers who have stood up to protect their country.

Vasil (left), sous-chef of an Asian restaurant, and Vitali (center), head of a bread factory. They were dazzling as they worked.
Volunteers interview a woman who ran into the area to look for her missing relatives. Cell phones were ringing off the hook.
Andrei is a priest at a church in Bucha. After the outbreak of war, the number of burial ceremonies at the cemetery reached a maximum of 11 per day.

From the May 20 and 27, 2022 issue of FRIDAY

  • Photographs and text Takehide Mizutani

    Nonfiction writer

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