The mother of a Ukrainian soldier executed by his Russian captors came face-to-face with him again when his life-like statue was unveiled on Wednesday.
Oleksandr Matsievskiy, 42, who was posthumously awarded a bravery medal, declared “Glory to Ukraine” moments before he was killed by Russian troops near the town of Bakhmut, in the Donetsk region.
Footage of his execution in March went viral on social media, with Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, later saying the sniper had become a symbol of the country’s resistance.
Mr Matsievskiy, a member of the 119th brigade of Ukraine’s territorial defence force, was filmed standing alone, smoking a cigarette, in a wooded area somewhere in eastern Ukraine.
In a final moment of defiance, he says “slava Ukraini” – a generations-old Ukrainian war motto – as gunfire rings out and he slumps to the ground.
The life-like statue was unveiled on Wednesday – Ukraine’s Armed Forces Day – and shows Mr Matsievskiy standing in his final, defiant pose at Kyiv’s Fortress National Historical and Architectural Museum.
Photographers captured the moment Paraska Matsiievska-Demchuk, his mother, stared into the sculpture’s eyes as she gripped the protective enclosure surrounding it tightly.
“He would have taken all of them with him if he had a grenade,” she said late last month, when the design for the monument was revealed.
“He would say to me, ‘Mum, I will never let them capture me’,” the 68-year-old added. “He wouldn’t just band words about. It was on the inside, it was like a core inside him.”
Kyiv opened a war crimes investigation into the death of the 42-year-old soldier.
Mr Zelensky said in a video address in March: “I conferred the title of Hero of Ukraine upon Oleksandr Matsievskiy.
“A man whom all Ukrainians will know. A man who will be remembered forever. For his bravery, for his confidence in Ukraine and for his ‘Glory to Ukraine!’”
Investigations of war crimes
Last week, Ukraine said it had launched separate probes into the “execution” of two soldiers by Russian forces, who were shot dead as they surrendered.
Footage from near the village of Steve, near the Donetsk town of Avdiivka, the scene of some of the most intense fighting, showed the mens’ last moments. One of the soldiers raised his arms when emerging from the trench, but the Russian forces opened fire at point-blank range.
Ruslan Stefanchuk, the speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, said: “This is another crime committed by Russian terrorists. Violation of the rules of war. The killing of unarmed soldiers.
“Russia has once again proved that it is a terrorist country for which there are no laws and norms of international law.”