Victor Gubarev was getting out to buy bread when he was killed by a fragment of a grenade that landed in front of his apartment building in Kharkiv on Monday, minutes before his daughter arrived to find an ambulance crew over his body.
Crew members had to stop Yana Bachek carrying her father’s body after the blast that hit the Soviet-era apartment complex where they live.
She was an English teacher and said she was preparing an online lesson in the kitchen of her one-bedroom apartment near her parents’ flat when the shelling started.
“I only remember the explosion,” she said. “Just got back from shopping and crazy explosions, noise.”
Immediately her mother, Lyubov, called out in a trembling voice and said that her father had gone to buy bread and was still outside. Her partner, Yevgeniy, stopped her from rushing out right away in case there was a follow-up strike, as was the case seconds later.
“I started calling him and there was no answer,” she said.
When she put on her coat and went outside a few minutes later, her haunted reaction to seeing her father’s body was noticed by photographers who had arrived in the ambulances shortly after the blast.
‘Sorry. I want to forget. The photo. The only photo I saw of him,” Bachek said.
Along with the mass graves of Bucha near Kiev or the destruction of the port city of Mariupol, the indiscriminate shelling of cities like Kharkov has become a symbol of what the Kremlin has called its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Russia says its raid is intended to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine. Kiev and its western allies reject that as a false pretext for war.
Russia denies targeting civilians and rejects what Ukraine says is evidence of atrocities, saying Ukraine staged them to undermine peace talks.
Gubarev’s death was one of at least three on Monday in Kharkiv, which has been bombed almost daily since Russia launched its invasion on February 24.
A former driver who started working at the age of 16 and rose to become a fleet manager for the oil company Gazprom, the 79-year-old was reluctant to leave due to health problems he and his wife had.
In her kitchen, occasionally fighting back tears, Bachek, their only child, shared family photos showing her father sporting an Elvis-esque quiff on vacation on the Black Sea, beaming at Lyubov or waving his granddaughter playfully in a shopping bag. .
She described growing up in a middle-class family without much money in late Soviet Ukraine, studying hard at school with her mother, a piano teacher who loved concerts and theater and her father who liked to tinker with cars and joke with his daughter.
“In his normal life, even in the war, he tried to smile, joke, support us. He said to us, ‘You are my girls, my heroes,'” she said.
Now she waits for her father to be buried, but here, too, the war has caused additional torment as the death toll has grown and normal burials have become impossible.
“It’s not like we used to do – cemetery, grave, a special place where I can be separated from other people, to be calm, to speak, to cry, to bake the Easter cake,” she said, referring to a Ukrainian commemorative custom.
While the family waited for news, Gubarev’s bread went out to buy leftovers, still in its plastic wrapper, on a table in the hallway, where she briefly touches it every time she goes to the door.
“The bread was in the blood,” she said. “Now I can’t hold it in my hands, but I want to because it’s my father’s piece. It was the last thing he had.”