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His son was dead. She stayed and held his hand.


Viacheslav Kubata holding the hand of his son, Dmytro, who was killed in a rocket explosion in Kharkiv in July. (Photo by Sergey Kozlov/EPA, via Shutterstock)

By Maria Varenikova


It was a warm summer morning, and Dmytro and Ksenia Kubata had gone for a run on a track close to their home in Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine. They often ran with their parents but that day had gone alone. As they passed a bus stop along the road, a Russian rocket exploded, killing 13-year-old Dmytro and gravely wounding his 15-year-old sister.


About two Ukrainian children die every day, on average in Russia’s war, but Dmytro’s death resonated far beyond his family. His grieving father, Viacheslav Kubata, knelt over his body on a glass-strewn street for more than an hour, and that wasn’t all: A police officer, sent to gather information on the dead boy, knelt with him, holding his hand and comforting him.


“Don’t leave,” he said to her.


And she didn’t.


The striking scene, captured by photographers and viewed worldwide, came to encapsulate the war’s deadly toll on children, the parents who lose them and the humanity of those who help.


Kubata and his wife, Viktoria, heard the explosion and started calling. But the children did not pick up their phones. Viacheslav Kubata ran to the track, but the children were not there. Then his wife’s phone rang, from an unfamiliar number. It was a police officer who told her that her son was dead and her daughter in the hospital.


Both parents ran to the explosion site. Their son’s body lay on the ground, covered with a sheet. Viktoria Kubata rushed to the hospital to help her daughter, and Viacheslav Kubata sat on his knees next to his son’s body and took the boy’s hand.


Valeriya Donets, a police inspector for juvenile cases, came to Viacheslav Kubata to ask for information about the boy for her report: his name, his age, details that were needed to register the death, on July 20.


“He told me everything clearly and then said, ‘Don’t leave.’ So I stayed,” Donets said.


She sat on her knees beside the father for more than an hour. He said, “Why did it happen? What for?” she recalled later.


“It’s very hard to find words when a parent loses a child,” she said in an interview. “I only asked him if I could hold his hand, and he said, ‘Yes.’”


The girl, Ksenia, had multiple shrapnel wounds and a concussion. After the explosion, she ran, bleeding, toward the road and tried to stop cars speeding by. One car stopped, and the driver picked up the girl and brought her to the hospital.


“My girl surprised me. She is a real hero,” Viktoria Kubata said. “She saved herself. If she didn’t do this, she would have died, too.”


Ksenia is already home and feeling much better, but the family is still living in the shock. Viacheslav Kubata can’t talk about his son yet, while Viktoria Kubata just remembers their family life together.


“He was a good boy,” Viktoria Kubata said. “He liked math, geography and history. He loved to play MineCraft and chess. He liked to dance.


“He was a very usual boy, like all boys at 13. And we were a very usual family. We were happy.”

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