Skip to content

Alone: Photo project shows wives of fallen soldiers coping with loss, shattered dreams

by Irynka Hromotska February 14, 2024 11:34 PM 10 min read
Kseniia visits the grave of her husband, fallen soldier Mykhailo. (Katya Moskalyuk/The Kyiv Independent)
This audio is created with AI assistance

Support independent journalism in Ukraine. Join us in this fight.

Become a member Support us just once

Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers have been killed by Russia’s war since 2022, leaving behind partners with shattered dreams of a shared future.

As the full-scale Russian invasion nears its two-year mark, the number of fresh graves at cemeteries across Ukraine continues to grow, as does the number of those grieving the fallen.

In a photo project titled “Alone,” Ukrainian photographer Katya Moskalyuk shines a light on a nation deeply scarred by war, unveiling the shared sorrows of many Ukrainian families. "Alone" is a testament to the resilience of the wives and families of fallen soldiers.

Embarking on a journey through the cities of Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Dnipro, Ivano-Frankivsk, to quiet corners of towns like Zhovkva, and remote mountain villages such as Bubnyshche, Moskalyuk discovers a common thread of irreparable loss among these families. Whether married for a year or two decades, every woman is forced to face the challenge of moving forward in the aftermath of a tragedy.

The term "widow" falls short for these women. It is a label that many of them reject, fearing it erases the cherished memories of their husbands. They instead ask to be called wives of fallen soldiers.

Left to navigate the harsh realities of life after loss, some of these women bear the dual burden of raising their children and providing for them on their own. Many had to flee their homes, which are located near the front line.

“Through the lens of the ‘Alone’ project, I captured portraits of these women, moments with their children, and the cherished items that serve as tangible connections to their husbands,” said Moskalyuk. “From the tenderness of a shared shirt to the permanence of a wedding ring tattoo, these artifacts become lifelines to a past that shapes their present.”

“This is our shared, colossal tragedy, an invitation to empathy and solidarity in the face of overwhelming loss,” Moskalyuk added.

Eva, Lviv

"I remember how we went to the "High Castle" park at the beginning of our relationship with Dmytro. We sat, drank wine, and ate cheese. Dmytro was such an active person. Everything happened so quickly with him – he walked quickly, spoke quickly. He walked in front of me and told me about our future life.

Eva in Lviv. (Katya Moskalyuk/The Kyiv Independent)

Dmytro returned from abroad to protect his loved ones. He died near Bakhmut. I have everything (cabinets) stuffed with his things – I couldn't throw anything away. After the news of Dmytro’s death, I didn't know how to look into the children's eyes, or what to say to them. Memories still come up all the time. Sometimes, I am surprised that I remember so many details.

I feel good for the first hour when I get up in the morning. Towards the evening, the pain sometimes becomes unbearable.

However, you get used to everything and also to pain.

I got a tattoo on my arm with the dates of my husband's birth and death. I still want to feel his warmth."

Eva’s husband, Dmytro, was killed in combat on Sept. 1, 2022, the day their daughter Lina started first grade. Their youngest son, Borys, sometimes still asks his mother why his dad is not around.

Mariia, Kyiv

“We were happy at home together. We bought waffles, candies, and chocolates, sat on the couch, and watched movies. We wanted to be together. When I was cooking something in the kitchen, he would always come and sit next to me.

Mariia in Kyiv.(Katya Moskalyuk/The Kyiv Independent)

I am often told that I am young and will find someone else. Only people who are unhappy in marriage can say such things. If they had had the kind of relationship with the man that I had, they would never say such a thing. They would understand how incredibly great my loss is.

Nothing helps me survive this pain.

Andriy came under fire on July 9 in Kharkiv Oblast. He was in a coma for eight days. He was fighting so hard for his life, he wanted so much to come home.

I ordered a necklace with my husband's name when he died in the war. I want to feel his presence."

Mariia’s husband Andriy died in the hospital on July 17, 2022, after enduring wounds while fighting in Kharkiv Oblast.

Anhelina, Dnipro

"We've known each other since we were 14 years old – that's more than half of our lives in general. I didn't know that Sasha joined the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to defend our country. I found out when he died in the war. Sasha served in the National Guard, and was in Dnipro. When the full-scale war began, he said that he was sent to Kyiv.

Anhelina in Dnipro.(Katya Moskalyuk/The Kyiv Independent)

He even came home for a few days. He tried to make our weekends sync up. We wrote to each other and talked on the phone. Our communication was often interrupted, but I could not even think that he was at war. His brothers-in-arms said that he loved and protected me very much. He didn't want me to worry."

Anhelina and Sasha got married two years ago. Sasha died on Oct. 6, 2022, near the village of Terny in Donetsk Oblast. In memory of her husband, Anhelina has a tattoo on her finger — a wedding ring.

Indira, Odesa

"When Viacheslav found out that we were going to have a child, he was the best father from that moment on. I remember when Liza was born, she was placed on my stomach. She was lying down, humming softly to herself. He came up, took her by the hand, and said, "My daughter.” She calmed down. It felt like she recognized his voice. That was probably the most beautiful moment of my life.

If I were given the opportunity to take only one memory with me, I would take this one.

Indira. (Katya Moskalyuk/The Kyiv Independent)

We always had a lot of plans. We talked about dreams every night before going to bed. We imagined that we would have a house by the sea and a garden with roses. The most painful time for me is the morning because I really liked to start the day with my husband.

I have many of Viacheslav's things left, which seem to build a bridge to him. I still have the feeling that he is about to walk into the room."

Indira’s husband, Viacheslav, died near the front line in September 2022.

Indira, with her daughter Liza, moved to live with her parents in Vinnytsia Oblast. Indira says that it is too painful for her to walk through Odesa, where every building reminds her of pleasant moments and life with her husband.

Oksana, Zhovkva, Lviv region

"At home, we constantly discussed the possibility of a full-scale war. When Feb. 24, 2022 came, I immediately knew that he would go to war. In 2014-15, Viktor volunteered to participate in combat operations. He never refused tasks. He could never pass by the injustice and knew why and where he was going.

Oksana in Zovkva, Lviv region. (Katya Moskalyuk/The Kyiv Independent)

Victor was extremely positive and optimistic. He said what he believed. Viktor died on March 2, 2022. It happened in Mykolaiv Oblast.

The pain is no longer acute, but chronic.

The pain has become constant and habitual, from which there is no escape.

I can't get used to the fact that he is not here, that his chair is empty."

Kseniia, Kharkiv

“I have a basket with my husband's things. I really want them to be passed down from generation to generation so that our descendants know and remember him. My soul has grown into him. I often recall our conversations and save our messages and his voice messages. I kept all his T-shirts for myself. I don't allow anyone to touch them. I still think about Mykhailo, I often dream about him.

Kseniia in Kharkiv. (Katya Moskalyuk/The Kyiv Independent)

When I wake up, I look at the empty half of the bed and do not understand why he is not there.

I'm still waiting for him.”

Kseniia was four months pregnant when her husband Mykhailo died on the battlefield  near the village of Pavlivka in Donetsk Oblast.

He managed to come up with a name for the girl before his death. She was named Vasylyna.

Mariia, Bubnyshche, Ivano-Frankivsk region

“‘Why didn't my dad bring me a big doll? Dad promised…’ Sofia asked me. But she didn’t understand the answer. Sofia is only two years old, and at that age, it is too difficult to understand the inevitability of death.

Mariia and her daughter in Bubnyshche. (Katya Moskalyuk/The Kyiv Independent)

My husband, Volodymyr, died on July 27, 2023, near the village of Yampil in Donetsk Oblast. He was buried on Aug. 3 in his native village of Bubnyshche in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast. The cemetery is located not far from our house, and I often visit his grave with my children. Sofiia is the youngest child in the family, she also has a sister Yana, and seven brothers — Andrii, Volodymyr, Ostap, Oleh, Taras, Vasyl, and Mykhailo.

The smallest children are always with me: some look like me, others look like their dad. The children are wearing identical khaki T-shirts with the words ‘My Dad is My Hero.’"

Katia, Kramatorsk

"Zhenia gave me a tattoo with a wing as a present on March 8, two years ago. He wanted to get the same wing tattooed on his arm. He died in the war on March 8 last year. I was left with one wing.

I really miss his hugs.

I will never forget them.

Katia. (Katya Moskalyuk/The Kyiv Independent)

In his arms, I felt love, tenderness, and respect. I loved falling asleep in his arms. And waking up. Now it is very difficult for me to fall asleep without his reliable arms.

Zhenia was a very kind and cheerful person. My daughter had a much better and stronger relationship with him than with her own father. My daughter and I miss him very much."

Katia came to Lviv from Kramatorsk after her husband Zhenia died.

Katia, Lviv

"I met Andrii when we were both 20 years old. We lived together for 21 years. We have a daughter, Margarita. We could still be happy.

I always told my husband that he was a builder and should rebuild the country after victory. I was very proud of him and worried about him at the same time. He died on July 7, 2022, near Avdiivka in Donestk Oblast. This happened a few days before our daughter's first communion.

Katia hugs her husband's uniform Lviv.(Katya Moskalyuk/The Kyiv Independent)

I really miss my husband. I often visit him at the cemetery.

When I want to feel his warmth, I wrap myself in his military uniform.

When I'm very lonely, I buy flowers – as if it were a gift from him."

This publication was funded by a grant from the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation and supported by the Platform of Memory “Memorial.”

Support independent journalism in Ukraine. Join us in this fight.
Freedom can be costly. Both Ukraine and its journalists are paying a high price for their independence. Support independent journalism in its darkest hour. Support us for as little as $1, and it only takes a minute.
visa masterCard americanExpress

Editors' Picks

Enter your email to subscribe
Please, enter correct email address
* indicates required
* indicates required
* indicates required
* indicates required
* indicates required


* indicates required
* indicates required


* indicates required
* indicates required
Successfuly subscribed
Thank you for signing up for this newsletter. We’ve sent you a confirmation email.