A story of the Sumy Region’s Defense “As long as I have strength, I will stop them”
Oleksandr Spasionov, a 31-year-old man, got a bulletproof vest, a machine gun, and a grenade on his own and became a partisan, defending Trostianets. Victoria Ivanova, a 52-year-old woman, also helped defend the city. Until February 24, she was just a florist, and then as an artillery observer. Meanwhile, not far away, in the village of Boromlya, 30-year-old athlete Serhiy Pronevych was scouting Russian positions at night and transmitting all the data to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. These people gave their lives for Ukraine. Read more about their stories, as well as about the national defense of the Sumy region.
Video: How the Ukrainian Sumy Territorial Defense Forces stopped Russian machinery
When you are at home, you know everything. On the peculiarities of national defense
Trostianets, a town of 20,000 people, is 35 kilometers from the border with Russia. The first column of Russian vehicles entered the city on February 24, 2022. During the occupation, people lived without electricity and normal communication. Shops and pharmacies were looted by Russian soldiers. Russian equipment was often placed next to residents’ homes.
During the occupation of Trostianets, Russian troops vandalized the local history museum, chocolate factory, district hospital, looted the emergency room, and shot up a funeral home car. The people who died sometimes had to be buried in city yards.
On the third day of the full-scale invasion, a partisan movement was formed in Trostianets. The commander was a resident Yevhen with the call sign “Hirurg” (Surgeon) – an ATO veteran who was discharged due to disability. We are not disclosing any more information about Yevhen because the war is ongoing and the situation in the Sumy region, the border region, is turbulent.
Yevhen gathered local volunteers. He communicated with them. He formed a detachment of people who, in his opinion, were ready to perform combat missions. Information about the partisan movement was passed by word of mouth. Most of those who volunteered had no connection to the military before February 24.
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The defenders organized ambushes, liberated premises from Russian soldiers, reported on the movement of Russian equipment and neutralized it. Thanks to residents, more than a hundred pieces of Russian equipment were destroyed in Trostianets.
On March 21, they went on the most difficult task that the locals (both territorial defense forces and partisans) performed together with the Ukrainian Armed Forces – the liberation of Trostianets. Volunteer OleksandrGulyuk is one of those who helped soldiers of the 93rd Separate Mechanized brigade “Kholodnyi Yar” entered the town. He recalls:
“We lived in the ravines and forests for about a week until the order to attack. There were 10 of us locals. We were divided into groups: one local and 5-8 soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. We went straight to the front.”
On March 21, there was a clash with Russian soldiers who occupied a large part of the city. On that day, Oleksandr’s comrade-in-arms Ivan Martynovskyi was killed and he was injured.
Five days after the first attempted offensive, Trostianets was liberated from occupation by the partisan territorial defense forces and the 93rd Separate Mechanized Brigade “Kholodnyi Yar”.
Oleksandr Gulyuk said:
“Without the local volunteers, the losses of the Ukrainian Armed Forces during the defense of Trostianets would have been much greater because they did not know the area well. We showed them the map and told them where the Russian troops were located: in the premises of which enterprises, in which buildings. We were constantly passing on information about their movements. When you are at home, you know everything.”
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Oleksandr Spasionov, a mobile power plant operator. “I am not a coward and will not leave the city”
Oleksandr was 31 years old. He was born and raised in Trostianets. Here he met his future wife Valeria, whom he married in 2016. A year later, the couple had a son, Akim.
“Sasha always helped me with our child: he could bathe him, change his clothes, and put him to bed. He was a loving father, he wanted to enjoy every day with his son, to see him grow up,” says Valeria Spasionova.
He and Sasha went to the same school. Oleksandr was a popular boy, Valeria recalls. He had a leadership but gentle personality.
“My Sasha is a leader, proud, impatient, stubborn. He is fair and strong in spirit. And at the same time, he was vulnerable and kind, with a big loving heart,” says Valeria.
“He was a person you could rely on in any difficult situation and not worry that he would let you down,” adds his godfather Oleksandr Skrybka.
In Trostianets, Spasionov worked as an operator at a mobile power plant on the railroad. He was interested in numismatics; in addition to coins, he also collected unusual lighters and matches. But most of all, he was fond of cars and motorcycles. He was often compared to Schumacher.
On February 24, 2022, Oleksandr was the first to wake up because of the sound of an air alert.
“He opened the window and said: “Has it really started?” His eyes were wide open, and I saw fear in them. I had never seen him afraid before. However, despite his fear, Oleksandr remained calm,” Valeria recalls.
From the first days of the war, Oleksandr Spasionov began helping the locals.
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“Sasha would deliver whatever they needed on foot if it was possible to get it, of course. He usually did everything himself,” says Sasha’s younger brother Valentyn Spasionov.
When the opportunity arose to leave the occupied Trostianets for a safer place, his wife persuaded Sasha to leave, but he refused. He said: “I am not a coward and I will not leave the city.”
“It was always hard to talk him out of something, he was principled since childhood. When he decided to do something, he did it,” says Sasha’s brother.
In the first week of the full-scale invasion, Oleksandr repeatedly tried to get a weapon but failed. One day he came home and told his wife: “I signed up.” That’s how Spasionov announced that he had joined the partisan movement. He managed to get himself a bulletproof vest, a machine gun and a grenade. At night, when he slept, he kept his weapons by his bed, and during the day he put them in a niche.
Video: Terrible consequences of Russian shelling in Sumy (north east of Ukraine). A video of the consequences of shelling in Sumy appeared on the Internet. The city is on fire
Oleksandr patrolled the area where he lived – Marshal Rybalka Street. He passed information about the movements of Russian troops to the Ukrainian military. He also performed combat missions.
The commander of the partisan movement, Yevhen,”Hirurg” recalls:
“The Russian military shelled Okhtyrka from Trostianets. The Russian army usually started artillery training at 9:00 a.m. So I planned all the attacks around that time. On March 11, at 10:00 a.m., the four of us worked together. Oleksandr and another guy had a machine gun. They covered the roads and the left flank. My neighbor and I attacked with a grenade launcher and a machine gun from a ravine between the trees. The Russian military set up observation posts on the roofs of houses. Our shots hit one of them.”
Comrades-in-arms managed to eliminate two Russians. Then Oleksandr returned home.
“He told me then: “There is a reason why the Ukrainian anthem has the words: ‘We will lay down our body and soul for our freedom’ I don’t know what happened to me at that moment, but I seemed to feel something. But Oleksandr reassured me: “Don’t worry, everything will be fine,” Valeria recalls.
On the same day, a Russian sniper shot and killed OleksandrSpasionov in Trostianets. He died near the street where he lived.
“Since the mobile connection was unstable, before setting a combat mission, I always set a time for debriefing. Sasha did not show up at the agreed time of 4:00 p.m. At 6:00 p.m., we received information that he had been shot,” recalls “Hirurg”.
After much persuasion, Oleksandr’s body was given to his mother only on March 13. On March 12, Valeria fulfilled her husband’s last request and took their son away from the war.
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Now Valeria and little Akim live in Germany. After the war is over, they plan to return to Ukraine. They miss their home very much.
Valeria is taking the loss of her husband difficult, in part because she was unable to say goodbye to him. She says she lives for her son. She keeps all the materials about Oleksandr so that in the future, when Akim grows up, she can tell him about his father’s exploits.
“My son and I were behind Sasha like a stone wall. That’s how he was – my husband. I wanted to give him all my love. We went through a lot together. I wanted to live the rest of my life with him,” says Valeria Spasionova.
Florist Victoria Ivanova. “It was impossible to hold her back”
Victoria was born and raised in Trostianets and studied at the Lebedynsky Pedagogical College. For some time, she lived in Lithuania, where she worked as a kindergarten teacher.
In Lithuania, Victoria met Ihor Ivanov, who was serving in the army there. The couple fell in love and got married. They had a son. In 1993, the family moved to Trostianets. Victoria lived with Ihor for 32 years.
Her husband still affectionately calls her “Vita”. When I asked him what his wife was passionate about, he said:
“My Vita was passionate about life.”
In Sumy Oblast, the woman worked as a saleswoman in a grocery store, later as a waitress and bartender. But her greatest passion was flowers. They were grown with her husband Ihor, setting up a greenhouse near their house. The plants were offered to local shops and sold independently. Victoria studied the varieties and techniques of growing flowers on her own.
“Our whole garden was planted with flowers! Not the usual onions or potatoes, but flowers,” Ihor recalls.
On February 24, the couple was caught off guard – a friend called in the morning and asked: “Are the tanks coming?”
“We couldn’t believe it at the time. What do we have here: a chocolate factory, that’s all,” Ihor says.
At 9:00 a.m., the first column of Russian vehicles drove past the Ivanovs’ house. The couple had no plans to leave Trostianets. They both began to help the Armed Forces. At first, they filmed the movement of Russian equipment. Tanks and armored personnel carriers moved down Lunina Street, where they lived, every day. The Ivanovs’ house was six meters from the road, so all the Russian equipment was clearly visible.
“My Victoria even went out to the Russian military and told them to come back home. She had a fighting spirit,” says Igor.
In the first days of the full-scale war, Victoria, a florist, joined the activists who collected information to adjust the fire of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Under the guidance of the district deputies, the activists shared information about the movement of Russian equipment. Victoria sent voice messages about everything she saw to the group on Viber. Ihor helped her.
“Together we counted the number of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and other equipment. We passed on the names and numbers. I was not part of the group on Viber. Vita used to tell me: “The less you know, the better you sleep.” She was cranky, but she always responded to requests for help. It was impossible to hold her back,” says Ihor Ivanov.
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Later, Victoria counted Russian vehicles in the center of Trostianets. She was delivering food to the elderly and keeping track of the count. She passed photos of the equipment, data on the personnel and all the coordinates to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
On March 13, Ihor Ivanov saw Victoria for the last time. Around 6:00 p.m. he went to the greenhouse, and when he returned, his wife was not at home.
“She said that she was going to Russian troops to agitate them to surrender,” he recalls.
Ihor was looking for his wife. He even went to the Russian checkpoint. “I asked if they had seen such a woman, and showed them a photo. They said they had, but turned me back,” says Ihor.
For more than two months, there was no information about Victoria Ivanova. Ihor hoped that his wife was alive, perhaps in captivity.
On May 19, 2022, Victoria was to turn 53.
“I set the table that day and said: “Vita, hold on”. A few minutes later, I was called and said they had found a woman who looked like my wife,” Ihor recalls.
Victoria’s body, buried in the ground, was found by an employee of a grain elevator on the territory of the enterprise. Ihor recognized his wife by a characteristic scar on her body, her hair and clothes. It turned out that the Russian military had exposed Victoria. They found photos of their military equipment on her phone. The husband does not know where and how Victoria was abducted. It is known that the woman was tortured and killed on the territory of the elevator.
Victoria was buried at the Trostianets Cemetery, and many townspeople came to say goodbye to the heroine. On November 21, 2022, the florist was posthumously awarded the Order for Courage, Third Class.
Today, Ihor Ivanov remains in Trostianets. He says he is learning to live without his wife, and it is extremely difficult for him. He is holding on for the sake of his son and grandchildren who live abroad.
“I just live, that’s all,” says Ihor, “and as for the flower business, I don’t have that streak. I can build things, yes, I can work with my hands… But flowers… Vita was always reading about it on the Internet, ordering seeds…”
In the spring, Ihor Ivanov plans to complete the grave of his beloved Vita, replacing the photo and installing a fence.
Athlete Serhiy Pronevych: “As long as I have the strength, I will stop them”
“He had a difficult temperament, and he always went to his goal with confidence,” says Antonina Pronevych, whom we met in Boromlya. This is a village near Trostianets. Antonina’s son, SerhiyPronevych, was killed while helping the Ukrainian Armed Forces defend their homeland from Russian troops.
Serhiy was 30 years old. He had been involved in athletics since the eighth grade. He had flat feet, but he dreamed of becoming a professional athlete, and there was no stopping him. “He was very confident since childhood,” Antonina says.
After school, Serhiy became a repairman and turner. For a while, he worked as a bartender, and later he started coaching children at the Trostianets sports school. In his free time, he made woodwork, helped his mother at work in an agricultural company, and renovated their house on his own.
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In 2017, Serhiy decided to serve in the army and joined the sports company of the Odesa National Guard for a year and a half.
“He got the idea of joining the guard, and they required military training. I told him: “Go, you haven’t been there yet,” Antonina Pronevych recalls.
Serhiy was a record holder in Ukraine – in 2019, he managed to run a marathon in full military gear weighing about 25 kilograms in 4 hours and 36 minutes. His family says that Serhiy succeeded in everything thanks to his perseverance. He bought a car and repaired the house he inherited from his father. Before the full-scale war, he arranged a bathhouse there and planted trees in the garden.
In January 2022, Serhiy got a job as a sports coach at the Boromlya village council. However, he did not have time to recruit a group of trainees. The war broke out.
In the first week of the full-scale invasion, the Russian military destroyed the central part of Boromlya from the air, hit the former kindergarten with a missile, and damaged the local lyceum with a blast wave. Several hundred pieces of Russian equipment entered the village on March 9.
From the first days of the full-scale invasion, a self-defense unit began to be formed in Boromlya. Boromlya village head Vasyl Romanika said:
“Back in 2015, we set up a checkpoint at the entrance to Boromlya and a defense line around the community. We also began to form lists of volunteers who would be ready to defend the village. However, we believed that it would not be necessary.”
Athlete Serhiy Pronevych also joined the self-defense volunteers. However, when the full-scale war began, he said he would act as a partisan.
Antonina Pronevych recalls:
“On February 24, at 4:30 a.m., I went to work and saw a fire on the street and heard explosions. I ran to Serhiy. He was already standing outside with his neighbors. His jaw was tightening up. I immediately realized that my son would fight.”
Serhiy lived alone in his father’s house. At night, he scouted the situation around Boromlya and neighboring villages, traveling tens of kilometers. In the morning, he called the Armed Forces of Ukraine to report the location of Russian troops. He also helped the territorial defense of the village.
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Serhiy spent the night of March 10-11 at his mother’s house. Until then, he did not tell her about his activities and then showed her videos and photos on his phone that he had taken during one of his reconnaissance missions. Antonina asked her son to stop.
But the dialogue was short.
– “Calm down, you’ll join the army later. The bullet always runs faster than you,” said the mother.
– “No, as long as I have the strength, I will stop them,” her son replied.
On March 11, Serhiy went on a mission to take several assault rifles for territorial defense from a cache outside the village, near a television tower. That day, he acted with a partner. They were walking through the fields and forest to the agreed place and suddenly saw a Russian checkpoint.
The comrades-in-arms stopped in a wooded area and waited for the moment when they could slip past the Russians unnoticed and run on to where they were supposed to take the weapons.
“Suddenly, when Russian cars started driving, Serhiy jumped out and ran to the other side by himself,” recalls his partner, who wishes to remain anonymous. “About 20 meters away, Russian soldiers ran out and opened fire in his direction. I heard two shots and screams.”
His comrade-in-arms stayed in the forest and later managed to get out of there unnoticed. Antonina Pronevych says that he tried to call her son on his cell phone that evening. A Russian soldier picked up the phone and started laughing.
“The Russian military used my son’s phone, they even replied on his behalf on social media. Even after March 27, it was clear that Serhiy was logging on to the Internet. Eventually, we managed to block his page,” says Antonina Pronevych.
On March 27, Serhiy was found a few kilometers from Boromlya – near a television tower, near which he was with his partner. The man’s right temple had a mark from a blow, probably from a rifle butt. There were marks on his hands from a rope or handcuffs. The man’s relatives and comrades-in-arms assume that he was held captive. He was tortured and later shot dead. During the autopsy, a bullet was found in Serhiy’s body, which damaged his internal organs and stuck in his rib.
In his father’s house, where Serhiy Pronevych lived, ammunition was found in the kitchen, which he had taken from Russian equipment. Molotov cocktails that he had prepared were found near the house.
Serhiy was buried in the cemetery in the village of Boromlya. On November 21, 2022, the President of Ukraine awarded Serhiy Pronevych the Order for Courage, Third Class.
Antonina Pronevych keeps everything that reminds her of her son: photographs, more than 70 medals and more than a hundred sports awards, newspaper articles, and his crafts.
“I keep everything. Newspapers, and any reminders of where he ran and when. Everything written, everything folded. I took all the certificates and medals from the house where he lived. I try to keep the memory of my son alive in my thoughts, memories, and with the help of his things. I want everyone to remember him as fearless and persistent. How many plans he had… And now he’s gone. There is no son,” says Antonina Pronevych.
Originally posted by ZN.ua, translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website
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