Holding his son’s hand

Yesterday I couldn’t not write. I was scanning news articles on my laptop, focusing particularly on the war in Ukraine.  I saw the headline in The Telegraph, ‘Pictured: Father holds hand of dead son as fresh Russian air strikes hit Kharkiv’.  I skimmed the article, and the photo referred to, and continued reading. My ‘rational’, ‘political’ self murmuring silently, ‘How awful’.

But then I stopped, went back to the photo, looked at it properly, the details, let it sink in, and burst into tears.  The devastating photo reached me, not as a ‘rational’ person, nor as a ‘political’ person, but as a simple human being.  I sobbed.

A father holds the hand of his 13-year-old son, who was killed by a Russian military strike on Wednesday

A gentle man. Sat quietly on the ground, next to his son who is laying on the ground in a body bag.  Laying on the ground in the place he had been killed.  The father, calm and dignified in the face of the most appalling grief. Quietly reciting a prayer.  Holding his son’s hand. As he had done so many times before, especially when his son was small. When he had held his hand to protect him, to comfort him, to reassure him, to give him confidence, to guide him, to accompany him. The father’s hand is a healthy colour.  His son’s hand is white.

All we can see of the son is his blue cuff and his hand.  And the frame of his body in the body bag.  A searingly painful, horrific, and desperately gentle and intimate moment. The news is too recent for there to be a photo of the son, alive and well, in the report.  We know his name was Dmytro.  That he was 13.  That he went to dancing classes with his sister, Ksenia, who is 15.  That Ksenia was taken to hospital seriously injured.  That an elderly couple were killed in the same attack.   

The scene would be unbearably painful if Dmytro had died of an illness or from an accident.

But to know he was deliberately, consciously killed – as a member of a community seen as an ‘enemy’, by another human being / other human beings directed by their government, in an act of war – is a deeper horror.  A deeper horror in terms of what we as human beings are capable of doing to each other.

Yet perhaps it is even worse than that.  Deliberate, and conscious yes, but also ‘careless’, random and indiscriminate.  The Russian soldiers who took the deliberate, conscious decision to fire the shells presumably did not intend to kill a 13-year-old child.  But they, and the government they are serving, knew that given the weapons they were using, and the way they were using them, anybody could get killed.  And that didn’t stop them.

So, on top of the grief of knowing his son was killed violently in a war, the father will also have to cope with the horror of the randomness of it, the ‘carelessness’ of it.  The horror of knowing that with a very slight, random change of circumstances and timing it might not have happened to Dmytro.  The unbearable loss of Dmytro might not have happened.  The ‘carelessness’ and randomness of the act brings an extra layer of mental cruelty, on top of the very physical horror.

The father stayed next to his son for about two hours.

Holding his son, being alongside him. In death.  Praying for him.  The father’s mind and body trying to begin to absorb what had happened, by being physically present with his son’s body.  Bearing witness. In the place where he had been killed.  In shock.  Needing to touch his son.  Being there, holding him, beginning, scarcely beginning, the impossible task of saying goodbye.  

We cannot see the son’s face.  But we know he was deeply, deeply loved.

A photo of unbelievable grief and horror, of intimacy, and overwhelmingly, of love.

Source

Vasilyeva, Nataliya & Sabur, Rozina. Pictured: Father holds hand of dead son as fresh Russian air strikes hit Kharkiv. The Telegraph. 20 July 2022.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2022/07/20/pictured-father-holds-hand-dead-son-fresh-russian-air-strikes/

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