Russian Missile Strike Robs Family of Young Son; Grieving Mother Pleads for End to ‘Meaningless War’

Photos by Kaname Muto / Yomiuri Shimbun Photographer
Volodymyr’s father, Ivan, sits on his son’s bicycle in the suburbs of Kolomyia in the Ivano-Frankivsk region of western Ukraine on Jan. 30. He imitated the way Volodymyr rode with a broken bone, bringing a smile to the face of Volodymyr’s mother, Martha. They said their son was a very cheerful boy, loved by everyone.

KOLOMYIA, Ukraine — On Aug. 11 last year, Russian forces fired a missile into the suburbs of Kolomyia in the Ivano-Frankivsk region of western Ukraine, taking the life of 8-year-old Volodymyr Balabanyk.

It was an ordinary morning in Kolomyia, a community far from the frontlines of the war. Volodymyr and his father, Ivan, a 36-year-old taxi driver, went shopping together in the car. The boy sang along to music on the radio, ate a hot dog and laughed at the sunflowers on the side of the road, saying they looked like the sun.

When they returned home at around 9:50 a.m., an air raid alarm began to sound. Volodymyr ran out to the backyard toilet, saying he wanted to pee. At that very moment, a large explosion rocked the area, accompanied by a blast wave and the rumbling of the ground. Residents suspect the missile was aimed at a nearby military airfield.

Martha’s smartphone screen displays a photo of Volodymyr on Jan. 29. The photos his family had at home were scattered by a missile explosion.

The roof and part of the walls of the house were blown off, and Volodymyr was found lying in the garden. The ambulance journey to the hospital felt like it lasted forever. When his 34-year-old mother, Martha, was informed that her son had been confirmed dead, she fainted in the hospital corridor.

Ivan has blamed himself, thinking, “I shouldn’t have let him go to the toilet.”

Debris believed to be part of a Russian missile is scattered around Volodymyr’s home on Jan. 29.

Volodymyr’s brother, who is two years older, has not laughed since he lost his “buddy,” while his 4-year-old sister innocently waits for Volodymyr’s return.

“Mum, I give you my energy,” Volodymyr would say as he hugged his tired mother at the end of the day, Martha recalled. The Russian military attacked even such a kind-hearted child without mercy.

“Why my boy … ” Martha struggled to say. “Please, stop this meaningless war. Don’t kill innocent people,” she pleaded.

The site where a Russian missile landed near Volodymyr’s home. “Trees were blown away by the missile explosion and our house was hit,” Ivan said as he stared at the destroyed trees on Jan. 30.

Numerous holes and shattered windows can be seen on Jan. 31 at a school in Lviv, Ukraine, that was heavily damaged by a Russian missile strike at the end of last year.