More than a thousand civilians have been reported missing after the withdrawal of Russian troops from the occupied Ukrainian territories. Locals say they saw men being taken away in an unknown direction by Russian soldiers.
Yesterday, on April 17, the body of Nikolay Moroz was found. In the middle of March, soldiers took him from his home in the village of Ozera in the Kyiv region. They put a bag over his head and took him away. Nikolay was tortured and killed.
IStories tells the story of the life and death of Nikolay Moroz, recounted by his friend Gennady. Below is his monologue.
"They took him away and that was it"
In the middle of March, Russian soldiers came to Kolya's house (Kolya – short for Nikolay). They took his phone, looked something up, and accused him of being a spotter. Then they put a bag on his head and took him away. They said he "would be shot". Who knows why they accused him? They went through his phone, maybe saw some numbers, something went off in their heads, and they accused him. They might not even state the reasons. I know cases when people were taken away without any explanation. They just took him away and that was it. Several men disappeared this way in our village: one of them went out with his stepson to feed the neighbor's cow – they haven't been found yet. In one country house, in the basement, the bodies of four people were found.
They couldn't find Kolya for almost a month. Yesterday a friend called and said they found him. He was in Zdvyzhivka (a village 14 kilometers from Ozera. – Ed.), in a basement. Some priest found him there.
They sent us a picture. Kolya lay in a fetal position. Our mutual friend who was there said that Kolya had obviously been tortured and beaten. It seems that there are abrasions on him. I try not to look at that picture, it makes me sick. Now Kolya is in the morgue in Bucha. We already went to identify him. We need to arrange the funeral.
"Looking for his woman"
Kolya was 46 years old. He was a devout man, a Seventh-day Adventist (one of the branches of Protestantism. – Ed.). My wife and I had belonged to this denomination for ten years and had left it, but we still had a close relationship with the whole congregation. Kolya was my close friend.
His mother died early, he practically grew up without her. His father passed away about five years ago. Kolya had taken care of him very lovingly, I don't remember him ever raising his voice to his father, he would always say: "Papa, papa". A man of God of he was.
Kolya moved to Ozera from Cherkassy region. He bought the house himself – he worked for it, he did not steal from somewhere nor did he live at the expense of someone else. He did it all with his own hands. That's how we met, I lived literally across the house from him for many years. For decades Kolya was a treasurer of our church community – he was re-elected because there was no better treasurer. That's how scrupulous and responsible he was about everything. He wasn't only the treasurer, but he was also in charge of the music. Together with Kolya, we built the house of prayer, and he took the most ardent part in that. We did everything on our own and sacrificed everything – we spent three years building it.
When his father died, Kolya was left alone. He often went to church in Kyiv: attended conventions, forums. There he met his future wife Tatyana. He was an old bachelor, still looking for his woman. Believers [Adventists] have their own rules: believers only marry believers, and you can't always find one.
He just got married less than two years ago. The two-year wedding anniversary would have been in August. He didn't have enough time to love his wife. He was so happy he waited for his woman. Tatyana is 50 years old, but she looks young. Although now [during the war] she doesn't anymore. They found each other: she is so emotional and lively, he is more on the quiet side. They complemented each other very well.
Kolya worked as an electrician for a long time. He could do anything, though – he had a clever pair of hands. He could do both construction and repairs. The last time I asked him for help was to fix my vacuum cleaner. I look at the vacuum cleaner now, crying, and I can't believe Kolya is gone.
I am shocked that such a man could be killed – for what? On such monstrous charges! How can one think he was a spotter? He didn't hurt a fly! I curse myself that I did not evacuate him when the helicopters attacked the airport (meaning Antonov Airport in Hostomel which is located near the village of Ozera; fierce battles were fought for this airport from February 24 to March 31. – Ed.). My car was parked across the kitchen garden. In a panic, we abandoned everything and left. We could have gone to pick him up – but what of it now? They say to me, "Why do you blame yourself? He just wouldn't have gone anywhere". I probably would have tied him up and thrown him in the trunk, but I would have taken him out. He wouldn't have agreed to leave, though – he built his house piece by piece. And there was another reason: a house near them was bombed, and an elderly man was left there. They took him in. They didn't want to leave him to be alone. That elderly man still lives with Tanya, Kolya's wife. A widow now.
Tanya is hanging on, she does not know whether to leave or stay. She is from the Khmelnytskyi region. She says: "They'll loot our house". But life is more expensive!
"And Kolya is gone"
Ozera is my late father's homeland. I spent my childhood there, and then I lived there myself.
People in this village always lived well. The airport is close to us, it's a city-forming enterprise. My father worked there all his life, almost all the village residents are connected to this airport. People who lived there were like hardworking bees. He who works – shall eat. People there were truly house-proud, worked like normal Ukrainians, like kulaks – in a good sense of the word. They worked the land. It was a beautiful village, good, rich. And now, there is nothing but ruins.
Now there is such an atmosphere – everything is saturated with death. An atmosphere of doom, of emptiness. People walk around gloomy. I couldn't stand being there, I was so depressed by it all. The house opposite Kolya's was simply destroyed in one explosion – a direct hit. The neighbor's house was looted. Kolya's house also had no windows, the roof was damaged. In the yard of Tanya's sister, there is still a rocket sticking a meter out of the ground.
I had one wish – to get out of there as soon as possible. You know, there's the sacred land and there's the cursed one? That's where all the ground is soaked with death and grief.
I can't comprehend: what have they done to the people who gave the world Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Lermontov, Chekhov? I see how on the Internet, they say things like, "We'll raze them to the ground"... I just can't understand what was done to them? Were they, excuse me, fucked in the brain? What happened to them, did they lose the ability to see the world around them adequately? I read Chekhov's story "Peasants", where he describes that there is such a problem in Russia as drunkenness, that there are bad men... But all of Russia cannot be like that! I can't believe that people with Slavic roots can perpetrate something like that. I don't know how to live with this. I just know that the word "Russian" will become insulting in the future. How will they live with that?
Now more than ever, I feel acutely that everything material is a mere nothing. I went back to Ozera to get my stuff. I look at it: three jackets, three pairs of pants. God, what does it matter now? It turns out that just a peaceful sky overhead, with no bombs flying, is enough to live. What good would it do me if I had three jackets in there?
And Kolya's gone.
The biggest question that torments me now is: when everything is over, how will we Ukrainians live? I really don't want us to live the old way, I don't want to see the corruption again. I think that we must be renewed as a society, we must revise our values. We have already shown the whole world who we are. We must draw conclusions for ourselves from this war: if we go back to the old ways – the pursuit of welfare, if we are self-indulgent again, then what was it all for?
Kolya is asleep now. He just wanted to live and serve God. The most harmless creature.