Ukrainian man who left Ireland to fight against Russia will be ‘greatly missed’

Oleksandr Zavhorodniy lived in Ireland for almost 20 years and worked as an Aldi assistant manager

A Ukrainian man who died in the Donbas region of the country just weeks after he left his long-time home in Ireland to join the fight against Russia will be "greatly missed" by his friends and colleagues at the Aldi branch where he had worked for almost a decade, a spokesman for the retailer said.

Oleksandr Zavhorodniy left Ireland on March 2nd, almost as soon as the conflict started and was killed on March 30th after the Ukrainian forces he was with came under sustained attack from the Russian military.

An online fund raising campaign set up earlier this week to “try and help his family, who are now away from home, mostly displaced, and devastated” had raised closed to €7,000 in less than 24 hours .

The father of two was 45 and was living in Ireland for 20 years. He was known to his friends and to his colleagues at the Aldi store in Dublin’s Sandford as “Alex”.

Anya Neilande, a friend of the late Mr Zavhorodniy, who set up the Go Fund me for the family says she is overwhelmed by the massive outpouring of support for the fundraiser.

“A massive thank you to all Irish and Ireland as a country. A massive thank you on behalf of everyone for opening the borders and for helping us and supporting us.”

Ms Neilande said that Mr Zavhorodniy, who was the best man at her wedding, couldn’t have lived with himself if he hadn’t gone back to defend his country.

“It is quite heroic. People did try to persuade Alex to stay. But I think he was very committed and he made up his mind. He was really stubborn.

“He called me and on the 1st of March and said that he had made the decision to go back. I was checking him in to the flights and booking him in to a hotel. I knew he would have walked to the Ukraine if he had to. That is just how determined he was.”

Ms Neilande told the Claire Byrne show, on RTE Radio 1, that she knew Mr Zavhorodniy for fourteen years. He was divorced and is survived by his two daughters.

His eldest daughter lives in St Petersburg in Russia with her mother whilst his youngest child was living in Ukraine when war broke out. She managed to make it to safety in Germany with her mother.

Ms Neilande says sadly Mr Zavhorodniy never managed to find out that his youngest daughter had escaped from Ukraine.

“He was super worried about them. He said he had to go back to Ukraine because somebody has to protect the children and elderly and women. He felt it was his duty to go back and protect and do anything he can.

Mr Zavhorodniy was from a Russian speaking town in Ukraine. Ms Neilande admits she finds it hard to comprehend that her Russian speaking friend was killed by Russian Forces.

“That is adding a lot of tragedy in this whole war because he was a Russian speaker himself. That was his main language. His home town, which is Russian speaking, was bombed from the first day of the war.

“He was a Russian speaker and he came back to fight the Russian army which is something we still can’t fit in our heads. This war is just tragic. I can’t find words to describe the whole magnitude of this situation. It is incredible.”

Mr Zavhorodniy flew in to Warsaw in Poland before making his way to Ukraine where he met up with volunteers. He went to a military unit and was assigned a role in the war.

Ms Neilande adds that although Mr Zavhorodniy was in Ireland for two decades he always sent back money to support his two daughters and his wider family. She would like him to be remembered as a honourable person who did the best he could for his loved ones.

‘Outstanding person’

Long time friend of Mr Zavhorodniy, Anton Burihhin, told Newstalk Breakfast that it was difficult to absorb the loss of such a special person.

“He felt responsible to be a good worker at Aldi and he was always very courteous. He was an outstanding person. He was a true people person.

“He created a huge network of friends and you can see that from the support he is getting from Irish people. It is so generous and enormous. We have raised so far thirteen thousand euro on a Go Fund me. I think he deserves every penny. His bravery in his decision to go back.”

Mr Burihhin said that his friend died in heavy fighting in a “military shootout” in a village called Popasna near Luhansk in Ukraine.

“Unfortunately Alex got hit by one of the missiles. It was a very heavy shootout.”

Another friend Alex Cucuet told RTE’s Morning Ireland that Alex was a “super energetic, funny person.”

“He was always the first person who was in front of everything that needed to be organised. I met him eight years ago through a friend of mine. We met at a barbecue and have been friends since.

“His grandmother and sister survived the bombing and they have been keeping in touch. We have managed to sort the burial. We have managed to bury him in a place called the ‘Alley of Heroes’”, he said.

Mr Cucuet, who is a Dublin bus driver, said that he had managed to keep in touch with his friend for a short period after he left for Ukraine.

“He was on Whatsapp. He was texting me and sending funny pictures trying to keep everybody laughing even though we were worrying.

“I was worried. We were all worried. But after everything that had happened we kind of understand what was in his heart.”

It is understood Mr Zavhorodniy had completed military service when he was younger. He was living in Stillorgan before he returned to Ukraine.

A spokesman for Aldi described him as. “a valued and much-loved member of the Aldi team for over eight years”.

According to the spokesman his former colleagues had been left reeling by the news of his death.

“We all shocked by this news and our thoughts are with Oleksandr’s family and friends at this very difficult time,” the spokesman said. “He was a great asset to the company and will be greatly missed.”

The spokesman said counselling services had been made available to all staff impacted by this terrible news and Aldi would also be offering supports to the dead man’s immediate family.

A fundraising site has been set up to help Zavhorodniy's family at gofundme.com