“I feel overwhelmed with happiness” – the mother of AzovStal captive Dmytro Kozatsky, tells her story of pain, hope and struggle

September 26,2022 1048
“I feel overwhelmed with happiness” – the mother of AzovStal captive Dmytro Kozatsky, tells her story of pain, hope and struggle

On Sep. 21, Iryna Yurchenko, a train conductor, was on a train when she received a call from an unfamiliar number. She did not recognize the voice of a man who said: “Good evening, I know your birthday is coming up soon.” She said: “Yes, but who’s speaking?” At that very moment, she understood that it was her son!

“Dima, where are you? How are you?”

“Mom, I’m in Ukraine. I’m released, we were swapped. I cannot speak for long.”

Dima, or Dmytro Kozatsky, is one of the AzovStal defense heroes taken captive by Russian in May. While his nom de guerre is Orest, he is also called “Eyes of AzovStal” for the awesome photos that the 26-year-old photographer took in the besieged steel plant. The photos which swept the world and recently won gold and silver medals of Prix de la Photographie Paris. He is one of the 215 defenders of Ukraine who were liberated in the recent POW swap.

“I haven’t had any emotions the last seven months,” she tells the Suspilne reporter. “Now my son is in AzovStal, now he’s in captivity. I forgot when I smiled sincerely. These two days I just can’t find a place for happiness. I want so much to convey these emotions to other mothers and wives who are waiting for their dear ones from the war, from captivity, I want very much for them, too, to have the same positive emotions as soon as possible.”

When mother and the son finally met, and the mother was able to embrace her son, Dima was silent for the first half hour. And then the words started pouring. “He told us that for four months in captivity they were forbidden to communicate at all, they were not allowed to communicate with each other, there had to be silence. And he has, you know, such emotions. I say: ‘Oh, a cloud’. And he replies: ‘The sky.’ Little by little, Dima is coming back to life.”

Dmytro Kozatsky after liberation with his mother and sister

While Orest was fighting and then held in captivity, Iryna participated in various rallies, organized exhibitions of his photos, talked about him and did everything to bring her son back. “It was a path of uncertainty at first, then we pondered over what to do. At first, my relatives and I created posts on social media: ‘Help!’ And then we began to unite: mothers, wives, children. I went to rallies dedicated to AzovStal defenders and got to know people also fighting for their loved ones’ liberation. Because the situation at AzovStal was already very difficult, just hellish – there was neither water nor medicine there. And we all got united: organized exhibitions together, made the tragedy known even more through publicity, held briefings, the government helped us, we screamed to the whole world. This is what I could do – do not let people forget about it.”

This photo was always with her:

“I wrote Psalm 90 here, I read it constantly. This is a kind of talismanic prayer. And when my heart was heavy, I looked at the photo, at this smile, and said: ‘Dima, I feel that you are in a lot of pain there, but you are smiling at me like that.’ And my heart lightened, and this photo always traveled with me” says Iryna.

Dmytro has grown thin, his body is half of what it used to be. Now he is undergoing medical examination and will certainly need treatment, rehabilitation and mental health care.

“I want not a single mother, not a single family to despair, give up. We are Ukrainians and we have to hold on. And I say that my struggle is not over, I will keep fighting together with others until our last prisoner of war is released and until our victory. All together we will win!”