“Glory to the heroes!” These words can be heard everywhere now. We revere everyone, but what do we know about each of them? A hero is not a profession. You cannot be taught to give your life to save your family, your combat unit, your city, your country. One is born with it. War only brings to light things you do not notice in ordinary life.
“San Sanych has been shot”
He is one of the first people from Luhansk region in my personal circle killed by the occupiers. When asked why he risked his life so openly by helping the military on the front line in Luhansk region in March 2022, he said: “Death has come to me once, I’ve already seen it.” He meant the day when, after an explosion at work, he lost an arm and a leg.
After March 9, there was no communication or the Internet in the bombarded Rubizhne. It was a huge problem to get through. Sometimes my daughter would get through to our friends, who sometimes managed to recharge their solar panels, and we would come to them to talk to her.
“San Sanych Kononov has been shot dead,” she told us once.
In those days, all the media wrote how the Russians shot dead a famous volunteer in a village near Severodonetsk.
He is said to have been shot in the yard of his own house in the village of Borivske near Sievierodonetsk, where he lived with his elderly mother. However, others say that everything could have been different, that the story of his death is, as they say, “murky”…
Anyway, the shot man was buried by his mother.
Strong in spirit and body
He was a unique person – no matter how primitive and simple it may sound.
I dreamed of bringing a press tour to him, a journalistic team – to show my colleagues how a man without his right arm and left leg not only serves himself in everyday life, but also milks goats, makes hay for them, makes cheese, canned food for the winter … And to hear first-hand about how separatists kept that man “in the basement” in 2014 – for his pro-Ukrainian position and volunteering.
He always liked communicating with journalists. After all, he considered it his mission to explain and demonstrate to people what it was like to live with a disability …
So, instead of a press tour, we now publish such articles with memoirs …
Oleksandr Kononov was physically strong, big and handsome. He had a powerful intellect and was, as they say, unbreakable – in spirit and body. And very attractive to women.
He lived 17 years out of his 55 without his right arm and left leg. In his last years, he did not use a prosthetic arm – the sleeve of his huge embroidered shirt was empty. He said: I came to the conclusion that it is more convenient.
He lost his arm and leg 17 years ago during an explosion at a service station in Sievierodonetsk, where he and his brother worked. He was 38 years old.
“You can’t imagine how hard it is for a healthy strong man to suddenly become like this,” Sasha confessed to me. – I was very strong, very healthy … Actually, I could lift a car over an inspection pit on my own … And now – such helplessness …“
He spoke about his disability as easily as he could.
He had no hang-ups and could, for example, remove his prosthetic leg in front of strangers on the bus, to give the stump a rest. He was not ashamed of that stump. He could easily ask a stranger to help him physically. If a kind person, on noticing the man’s missing arm and leg, offered him money, he always took it. Despite the fact that he was able to earn it. But – he respected the human right to want to help another person.
To some extent, Oleksandr saw this as his mission: to make others understand that a disabled person is no different than them. Just a little more vulnerable.
Seventeen years ago, when he became disabled, he learned to live “from scratch” – as if in a new body. Then, immediately after the injury, in Sievierodonetsk, he took an active part in the movement to support people with disabilities. He helped people like him – both psychologically and legally. He helped society to learn to accept such people normally.
He could not remain passive when he saw injustice towards the people, towards his country; when he saw that someone or something needed help. That is why he was captured by the LNR militants in 2014.
He earned the nickname “Terminator”
In 2014, together with his wife, Oleksandr actively volunteered in Sievierodonetsk, helping Ukrainian defenders, and eventually they found themselves in captivity, in the so-called “basement” under the building of the regional state administration in Luhansk.
…He earned the nickname “Terminator” there. Definitely – not only because his arm and leg were made of metal. The armed people were really afraid of him – afraid to be alone with him.
Several people with machine guns took him to the toilet once every two days … They felt his strength even then.
Later, Oleksandr and his wife were exchanged. By the way, it was his wife who managed to take the Ukrainian flag, which the occupants had desecrated, out of the basement and bring it to the government-controlled territory. This relic is currently in a museum in Kyiv.
The “basement” neither frightened Oleksandr nor forced him to give in to people with guns. Once free, he continued to help the Ukrainian army.
He enjoyed life
… Before the very beginning of the war, we managed to visit Kyiv together.
Traveling around the city, he put his only arm on me – on trips he never refused such help.
His left pant leg was always a bit torn up and dirty – he admitted that he often fell and tore it. It was hard for a tall, stocky and, accordingly, heavy man to move around with no one to lean on.
He knew how to enjoy life’s small pleasures – books, communication, food, work … He took delight in discussing anything, be it recipes for pickling mushrooms or Kozma Prutkov’s works.
He met acquaintances everywhere – the whole of Ukraine really knew him. He got a thrill out of life, meetings with friends, prospects … It was in February 2022.
In that very February 2022, but at the beginning of the full-scale war, when there was still telephone connection in Rubizhne, he called me every day.
He, a resident of Borivske, in those days practically lived on the front line, providing our military with what he could – food, tea, coffee, medicine …
His death orphaned his mother, daughters, grandchildren, and many friends. However, he didn’t just leave a sacred memory, but did what he could for his country, and even more.
The material was created under the joint project of Ukraine Crisis Media Center and the Estonian Center for International Development with the financial support of the US Embassy in Kyiv and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia.