The war takes away security, childhood, sincere smiles, home, and ultimately human lives. The war takes lives of strong, brave, selfless and at the same time vulnerable people, who believed and dreamed, destroys the path they chose. Unfulfilled and taken away dreams remain in the air like a devastating trail of war. This will always be heard as the lost voices of the war.

Ukrainian soldier Ruslan Yakibchuk with a symbolic nickname “Poet” called the creation of his own collection of poetry his cherished dream. He wrote about 8,000 poems, which later found a response among a wide audience, but he did not have time to realize his dream. Ruslan died during heavy fighting near Bakhmut on March 18, 2023. Instead, the family of the fallen hero continues to work on realizing the soldier’s dream and preserving the memory of his significant contribution to his native Ukraine.

‘Bukvy’ talked to Ruslan’s daughter Dana about his life.

Dana, if you had to choose one characteristic feature that reproduces your dad’s personality, demonstrates his life aspirations and makes him special in your eyes, what would it be?

It is difficult for me to choose a single word that would describe such a multifaceted and great person… Ruslan was special, many wonderful things and virtues were harmoniously combined in him. Dad was an extremely intelligent person: he knew history perfectly – he had a phenomenal memory for all dates and historical events, was well versed in political science, knew several foreign languages and was constantly learning something new, reading books. His views were always very bright. He always had answers to all my questions.

Also, Ruslan was an extremely talented person: not knowing musical notation, he picked up any melody by ear, wrote more than 8,000 poems during his life, had “golden hands”, could make absolutely everything. We were relatives not by blood, but by spirit. He loved me as his own daughter, understood and was by my side in any situation. We had a father-daughter relationship, so I felt unconditional parental love. I think this says a lot about Ruslan as a person with a big heart with sincerity, kindness and love. He charged everyone around with his energy.

Speaking about your father’s nationalist orientations and his special view of historical events, we can talk about his personal motivations in the war. How did the war start for Ruslan?

Ruslan’s struggle began much earlier. He was born to fight. His rebellious spirit had been with him since he was a teenager. Ruslan was outraged by the regime of the so-called USSR, he always struggled with stereotypes and narratives inspired by Moscow. He took part in the Granite Revolution and the Orange Revolution. During the Revolution of Dignity, Ruslan actively took part in volunteer activities, and later fought in Donbas for 3 years.

At the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Dad and Mom were in the Czech Republic. Of course, Ruslan immediately decided to return and defend the Homeland. I remember how my mother and I asked him to stay in the Czech Republic because we were very worried. And Ruslan said:

‘My children are being killed, and I will not hide. I will reach Ukraine on foot, if needed, but I will stand side by side with my people to fight this evil. Who, if not me?’

Did the struggle for justice, which Ruslan defended above all else, affect his morale and fighting spirit?

The main mission for Ruslan was the destruction of everything connected to the Moscow imperialism and the maximum contribution to the prosperity of Ukraine. He always wanted Ukraine to be a developed country and it hurt him that an incredible country with a beautiful and ambitious people has such neighbors and has suffered from them for many centuries.

Dad has always been an ‘ironman’ and strong, like granite: Ukraine is above all, and the enemy must be destroyed. He said he had been to hell. He always remembered his brothers-in-arms, the young men who could be his sons by age, but died. He missed us a lot. However, he often said that the fighting spirit of the guys was indomitable: after many days in inhumane conditions, tired, cold and hungry, they rushed into battle to destroy the invaders. He said that everyone was very determined and would go to the end. The mood of our soldiers also depends on our work and support, because we are like one mechanism.

Speaking about your father, you repeatedly emphasize the unconditional sincerity, trust and love that prevailed in your relationship. Did Ruslan feel the need to share with you frontline stories, which showed the realities of the soldiers’ lives?

Yes, I remember several stories the most. In the spring of 2022, while being in Malyn and resting in the house after hard battles, one of the soldiers heard something hissing and promptly informed all the other guys about it. Everyone started running out of the room very quickly. The house exploded, everyone survived. It turned out to be the explosion of the munitions in the yard. Unfortunately, the man who heard the sound later died.

I also remember the story of how Ruslan saved a civilian near Kyiv. He talked to the man and began to insist that he should leave. The man was afraid to leave the house because there were large gas cylinders nearby, and he did not want everything to burn. Ruslan moved the cylinders, and the man left. Later, we received a message in which the man’s daughter sincerely thanked him for helping and saving her father.

Dad also told stories when death was near, but he was saved by his brothers-in-arms or by mere luck. For example, on July 19, 2022, Ruslan’s dugout was directly hit by a tank, but he had left some time before that, because he felt that he had to get out.

What wartime memory of your father are you willing to recall again and again? Which of his words give you strength to move on in moments of despair?

The last time I saw my father was on December 30. I was returning to study in Warsaw, and he was at home rehabilitating after a severe shrapnel wound. In the evening, before my departure, dad really did not want me to go. He said that it was so good to be all together and asked to stay longer. When my parents were seeing me off, we talked the whole way with Ruslan about music, I played different songs, and he was happy that we have the same preferences. Then I said that I wanted to go to the Scorpions concert, and he bought a ticket for me, because he knew how important it was to me.

Then we often texted and talked on the phone, he supported me during my university session, worried more than I did. We really liked to discuss different topics, exchange ideas and just laugh.

Whenever I have a hard time, I remember how much Ruslan believed in me. I remember the phrase he wrote shortly before his death: “Bohdana, you are a smart girl, so act out of the norms, and you can do it. Do not be afraid of anything… The biggest flaw of humanity is fear, only the brave change the world.”

For some reason, I practically do not remember our last conversation, it was very fast. He called and said that he was going to the east, and I was very surprised, because, as I mentioned earlier, he had a shrapnel wound in his leg and it was very difficult for him to walk, I knew that the medical examination was scheduled for March 28. To this day, we do not understand how he could be sent with such a bad health.

Although the last conversation with Ruslan was not long and, unfortunately, I do not remember it, I will always remember the lunch on March 19. The day when my mother wrote the most terrible words: “Ruslan… He is gone! Sniper”.

Ruslan’s call sign was “Poet”, which is very symbolic. Can you tell us about his creative path?

Ruslan was a very creative person. While studying at school, he and his friends created their own rock band and he began writing poetry. Ruslan had been writing poetry throughout all his life.

As for the poetry collection, he always dreamed of publishing out verse and even came up with the title “Spirit against Steel”, but in recent years, he devoted himself to the fight for our independence, truth and the Ukrainian people. Unfortunately, he simply did not have enough time to turn everything planned into reality.

Therefore, I consider it my duty to compile a collection of dad’s poetry. Now, my family and I are collecting all the poems, rereading them and choosing which ones will be included in the first part. Of course, at the same time, we are actively looking for a publisher, illustrator, and editor who would be interested in this project. Ruslan’s dream has become our dream. Ukraine needs to hear him, that is why I am trying to share poems on all social networks so that everyone can get acquainted with his works.

What is the main message of Ruslan’s poetry? What images did he depict in his works, to whom did he appeal?

His poetry is very multifaceted: starting from appeals to God, ending with poems dedicated to Vasyl Stus. In most of his poems, Ruslan described his feelings, life events, and the mood of the society. And he also wrote very beautifully about love.

I think everyone can find something in his poems, something that will definitely resonate. I am sure that his works will always be relevant. Ruslan continues to live in his poetry, because he wrote with his soul and heart.

Today, the relatives of the fallen soldiers are persistently fighting for a dignified commemoration of the memory of their loved ones. You call it your duty to create a collection of dad’s poetry. How do you see the impact of Ruslan’s poetry in the hearts of Ukrainians?

For us, the only but extremely important task is the creation of the poetry collection.

I think this is the best way we can honor the memory of our Ruslan.

I would like the students to study dad’s poems in literature classes in the future. I think that it is necessary to lay down a certain ideology and worldview from childhood, and reading really good and high-quality literature will strengthen our nation and will give us conscious generations that will become an excellent foundation for the improvement of our native Ukraine.

Therefore, we see great value in the popularization of Ruslan’s poetry. Maximum interaction with the poems is very important for us, so that as many people as possible learn about the talented patriot – Ruslan.

Of course, we are open to any ideas or suggestions regarding the collection.

The messages and meanings that your father advocated in his poetry are very similar to the values that Ukrainians are aware of today. What words of Ruslan can be an instruction in the further struggle?

Long before the start of the war, in 2014, my father predicted our struggle with ill neighbors. He always said that independence is won with blood, and he did not believe that the dirty hands of the empire would let us go so quickly.

Therefore, a very important message for the society is the fact that Moscow is our constant enemy, the war with which has been going on for many centuries. My father always emphasized that the biggest mistake in war is underestimating the enemy. We must always remember that the war continues on all fronts, the enemy is strong. We are obliged to give up everything that blurs the boundaries between Russians and us: from music to stereotypes and institutions.

I would like to add that important words and decisions should not be procrastinated. As I said, our relationship with Ruslan was just perfect; there was love and mutual understanding. He always dreamed that I would call him “dad”, but I could not find the strength inside to say it, it was difficult. I always believed that there would be a better opportunity. I thought we still had so much time ahead… It is time to say “Dad”.