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Ukraine war: ‘There is no family now’ – mother-of-nine’s eldest son fighting on same frontline her husband died on

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Maryna Berlizova is sitting on her low bed, a photo of her youngest daughter taped to the wardrobe and a pram in the corner, overflowing with baby clothes.

She is absent-mindedly stroking her tummy and looking out the window of her mother-in-law’s small three-bedroom house she now shares with her children.

In a few weeks’ time the mother-of-nine will become a mother-of-10; her baby daughter will be born into a large family but without a father – her husband, Yurii, was killed near Kharkiv on 24 February, the first day of the Russian invasion, the day “everything turned upside down”.

Maryna Berlizova's husband Yurii was killed on the first day of the Ukraine war. He was a soldier. They have nine children, and she is pregnant with a 10th.

“My husband was a soldier,” she said.

“In our free time we always went to the river for barbecues, everywhere with the children – to the zoo, everywhere.

“We spent all our time as a family you know, we lived well. There is nothing. There is no family now.”

Her grief is immediate and uncontrolled; she sobs between sentences and glances regularly at a photograph of her husband in military uniform, as if looking to him for comfort and support.

“He was a good man, he was a kind man, responsible.

Yurii Berlizov and his wife Maryna Berlizova  with some of their children. Mr Berlizov was killed on the first day of the Ukraine war. He was a soldier.
Yurii Berlizov and his wife Maryna Berlizova  with some of their children. Mr Berlizov was killed on the first day of the Ukraine war. He was a soldier.

“He was a sports instructor in the brigade, they went to competitions.

“He loved to sing and play the guitar.

“And that’s all, life ended. We had plans for the two of us and now I’m alone.

“We are proud [of him], but it does not make it easier for us.

“Who needs this war? How many children died? Families are simply destroyed, just ruined.”

She only recently found out her husband was dead. They heard nothing from him for 77 days as the Russian invasion progressed, claiming more and more lives.

“Of course we are proud. They protected other guys and did not allow the column to pass to Kharkiv, they just defended it by themselves.

“He didn’t even have time to take us out of the city. He said: ‘I’ll take you out, then I’ll go to war’.

“He said in our last conversation: ‘I will be back when the war is over’. We are still waiting…”

Maryna Berlizova  with some of her children. Mr Berlizov was killed on the first day of the Ukraine war. He was a soldier.

With horrendous coincidence, her eldest son is now fighting on the same frontline her husband died on.

“He is only 20 years old, he still doesn’t know anything, he is still a child,” she said.

“I am very afraid for him, I am terribly afraid.

“I tried to take him out of the army because of this situation, to help us at home but it is not possible.

“The war. Impossible.

“And now he has no mobile connection. But you have to live with it. I can’t even call him to see how he is.

“How can this be endured? It’s difficult. You just live and believe that it will end soon.”

The bedroom door is firmly closed, the children are playing elsewhere. Grief is done in private.

Yurii Berlizov was killed on the first day of the Ukraine war. He was a soldier and the father of nine children. His wife is pregnant with a 10th. His grave is the one with the flowers
Yurii Berlizov was killed on the first day of the Ukraine war. He was a soldier. He and his wife had nine children and a 10th is on the way

“Everyone is afraid to cry, so as not to upset the others. That’s why we don’t cry. We cry alone but all together we do not cry. You can’t cry. It’s hard, of course.”

I asked her about the Russians, the soldiers who killed her husband.

“These are not people. These are not people at all,” she said.

“They came to our land to destroy our plans for the future, to destroy families.

“I do not know for what purpose they are here and how many more must die to end this war.

“Three months with no sleep. Not sleeping for three months is difficult.

“You are worried about the children.

“Where will we go next if suddenly they come here? How much longer will we run? Where do we go next?”

Read more:
Weapons running out on southern frontline that has barely moved in weeks
‘My child has gone… but he died a hero and I’m proud of him for that’
The weapons being used by Ukrainians to fight Russian forces – and the arms they are asking for

It is the frightening dilemma so many families here face.

Yurii is buried nearby, laid to rest in the village he grew up, in a peaceful corner of rural Ukraine.

“You’ll find his grave, you’ll know which one he is,” Maryna tells us as we say goodbye.

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She’s right. In a small cemetery across the field from the village church we find it.

Overflowing with flowers and with a photo of him posing proudly in uniform is the final resting place of Senior Sargent Yurii Berlizov: soldier, husband, father; one of the first to be killed in this horrific war, one of the first of thousands.

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