“I didn’t think it could be our last meeting, I didn’t feel it. I just tried to hug him more, to tell him that I love him, to be with him… I still regret not hugging him one last time. But I will repay this debt.” T. Oliinyk/ICRC.


Maryna and Mykola met in Lviv. They worked together in Kyiv. As a couple with their daughters, they moved to Poltava, a city of happy people, as Maryna says with a smile, to fulfill their dreams, create their own comfort, and live their best life. This winter, the couple was supposed to celebrate their 11th wedding anniversary. However, as of this spring, a year has passed since her husband’s name was entered in the register of missing persons. The family does not know his whereabouts.

Mykola went missing in April 2023 while serving in the army. Despite the lack of information, despite the unknown, despite everything, his wife and daughters believe that their dearest father and husband will return home one day.

Here she tells her story.

How it all started

My husband is a book designer by profession. I am a philologist of the Ukrainian language; I have been a teacher and worked and still work in Ukrainian book publishing as an editor and translator. We met in Lviv at the Publishers’ Forum book festival because we both love books. Occasionally, we would meet by chance in Kyiv, and then we started working together in the same bookstore and communicating much more. We started our first joint tradition there: the bookstore was relatively quiet every Saturday, so we watched movies in their original language. It was a very romantic summer, after which we realized we were made for each other because we felt comfortable, cozy, and sound together.

“Our love grew out of friendship and became even stronger.”

It seems to me that people of culture have increased empathy. This terrible war affects them very much. Mykola was ready to join the army sooner or later, especially after his friend (also called Mykola, and also a man of culture) died in the summer. My beloved would often ask: why did he die, and I am here? But my husband felt responsible for providing for his children and his single mother. This sense of family duty kept him from volunteering to join the army earlier.

Mykola was mobilized on February 14, 2023. Unfortunately, while performing his first combat mission near Avdiivka, he went missing with his comrades. He has been missing since then. We hope that he was taken in captivity (it always sounds so horrible to me, but it turns out that now it is the most optimistic option) because the information we managed to find out gives us great hope that this is the case.

How it all happened

How did I know that Mykola was missing? We last spoke on April 26 at six-thirty in the evening. We agreed that he would write to me later. But he did not write and did not get in touch after that. It was a Wednesday evening. The next three days were hell for me. On Thursday and Friday, I still had to go to work, to control myself, and teach the children. But on Saturday, I just cried all day because I realized that something terrible had happened. On Sunday morning, I woke up thinking that three days had already passed, which meant I could contact all official structures with the question, “What’s going on?” I called the Center of Recruitment and Social Support, filed a ‘missing persons’ request with the National Information Bureau, and started looking for information on what to do next. That’s how I found out that there was a Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War and that there was a Commissioner for Missing Persons.

On Monday, I went to the Center of Recruitment and Social Support. “Wait, there is a message for you,” they said in response to my questions.

“They handed me the notification. Through my tears, I tried to understand the clerical language until I saw the phrase “missing.” At that time, I did not realize what it meant.”

Then, I started contacting the police and all other official structures. I was given the number of the ICRC in Poltava by a friend of a friend whose husband was also missing. I came to the office, and we filled out a tracing request there. Since then, Ms. Natalia (Protection of Family Links Officer) and I have been in constant contact. She calls from time to time to find out how I am doing. I periodically ask her if there is any news. But, unfortunately, there is no news.

When Mykola was in military training, we met twice more. And our last meeting was at Easter last year, on April 16. We were visiting Mykola’s sister. Together, we painted eggs, baked Easter bread, recalled many pleasant memories, and laughed.

“Mykola always said that we should never forget that there is happiness in life, even in such difficult circumstances as we are experiencing now, and that we should increase this happiness whenever possible. That’s how we tried to live at Easter last year.”

Now, it seems to me that I was very naive and probably did not fully realize all the threats that he could face. I didn’t think it could be our last meeting at the time. I didn’t feel it. I just tried to hug him more, tell him that I loved him, and be with him.

Waiting for news

– Mykola always keeps a diary, writes down texts by hand, and then types them up or not (smiles). He took a few notebooks to the army and wrote poems and daily impressions of what was happening to him or his fellow soldiers. And I’m very pleased to read it all because it’s like I’m going through all the events with him.

Mykola also sketched everything he saw around him and the people around him. Drawing is also an inseparable part of his life. In fact, he always says that he is a “slow person.” He perceives the reality and pauses to convey the beauty of this world in his art.

As one of his friends said, he is probably the only person he knows to have mastered all forms of art: Mykola writes poetry, Mykola plays music, Mykola draws, Mykola dances, Mykola sings (laughs). He is such a man of art. Creativity is what he lives for and what he passed on to his daughters, and I am very grateful to him for that. Because our daughters also love to invent things, to draw, and they both play the violin. The eldest daughter likes to write: she composes poems, has written a book about the Latatko family of frogs, and is writing a novel with her friends.

“I often wear Mykola’s clothes. I think to myself that I am warming these things for him so that when he comes back, they will be warm. So that he knows we are waiting for him. When I put on his jacket today, I felt as if he was hugging me and he was next to me.”

The girls and I have to protect him from a distance because there is always a connection with the family, and their father is always with them here, in their hearts, and here, in their thoughts. I tell the girls they are “guardian angels,” so their father hears and feels all their wishes.

“Recently, our daughters have invented a tradition for themselves: when the minutes on the clock coincide with the hours, there is a theory that you can make a wish. So when they see the same numbers on the dial, they chant, “Daddy come back, Daddy come back.”

They have a strong confidence in themselves that their father will return, and I am very grateful to them for that because, in this way, my daughters support me as well.

In September, Mykola celebrated his birthday, and I bought him a smartphone with a good camera as a present – it was his little dream to record life around him with a small camera. And since his birthday, I have been recording videos on this phone for him almost daily, telling him what is happening to me and how I live our lives together. This is my hope that I am communicating with him, and he feels it. I really want him to feel it. And when he returns, he can catch up with these videos on everything he missed. I also want him to know that we never forgot about him, not for a moment, not for a second or a split second.

I still wish I had hugged him one last time. We were standing on a platform, our express train was about to depart, but there was just one more minute left before the doors would close and the train would leave. He was standing on the platform, a meter away from me, and I was thinking: “I need to jump out and just hug him.” But my daughters were on the train, so what if the train left before I had enough time to return.

“I didn’t hug him then, but I hope that I will hug him again. I will repay this debt.”

This is the end of our conversation. Maryna wraps herself in Mykola’s jacket, which she keeps warm for her husband. It seems that what really warms her is not her clothes but her unwavering hope. Perhaps one person has never had so much tenderness and total faith simultaneously.

Leaving the coffee shop, we walk in different directions in a small city with the happiest people. Maryna is sure there will be many more new locations in their joint travel history. They will share many moments together and will celebrate every Easter and enjoy life no matter what. She must wait. For her husband. For answers. News. At least something to give her the strength to go on living.