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Great-grandfather killed by Nazis, grandson by Russians: How war took two Maksyms from Medynskyi family

Great-grandfather killed by Nazis, grandson by Russians: How war took two Maksyms from Medynskyi family Photo: Yurii Medynskyi with a portrait of his father (Vitalii Nosach/RBC-Ukraine)

Read about the heroes of the Second World War and the current Russian war against Ukraine in the history of one family in an RBC-Ukraine article.

The Second World War took millions of lives. According to various estimates, 8 to 10 million Ukrainians died in the war. This is almost a quarter of the country's population at the time. Ukraine celebrates the Day of Remembrance and Victory over Nazism in World War II amid an ongoing Russian war against Ukraine, when modern heroes are giving their lives for us.

Kyiv resident Yurii Medynskyi lost his father in World War II, and his grandson during the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. RBC-Ukraine met with him to talk about how the fates of the two wars intersect.

Three years under German occupation

87-year-old Yurii Medynskyi comes to the meeting wearing an embroidered shirt. "Glory to Ukraine," he says loudly from afar. Due to his age, it is difficult for him to walk, so his granddaughter Oksana leads him by the hand. Sitting down on a bench, the grandfather immediately lays out the photos in front of us, which he cherishes very much. First, he takes out two large portraits - a black-and-white photo of his father Maksym, who died at the end of World War II in Poland. And his grandson, who lost his life defending Ukraine from Russia in 2022.

"Their portraits hang next to me at home. I greet them every day. Both of them are named Maksym: his children named their son after his father," the grandfather says with tears in his eyes.

Yurii remembers the Second World War well, although he saw the war as a small boy. The whole family stayed in a village in the Vinnytsia region under German occupation for three years.

"I was four when our troops retreated in 1941. The road to Zhmerynka passed through the village, and our house stood by the road. The soldiers were walking slowly, very tired, covered in dust. At the time, everyone thought that something bad was going to happen," Yurii Maksymovych recalls.

Great-grandfather killed by Nazis, grandson by Russians: How war took two Maksyms from Medynskyi familyPhoto: Yurii Medynskyi lost his father in World War II and his grandson in the current Russian war against Ukraine (Vitalii Nosach/RBC-Ukraine)

The family also decided to leave. They were given a couple of horses and a cart from the collective farm. They packed their belongings, tied up their cow, and left. However, 20 kilometers from Vinnytsia, they were met by soldiers who insisted on turning around because the Germans were already nearby. There was no way out - they had to return. Soon the occupiers entered their village.

The Germans decided not to cancel the work of the local collective farms: they sent a man from western Ukraine to control how the locals worked. They saw that Yurii's father had a specialized education and forced him to work as an agronomist.

"Everyone was involved in hard work. Those who fell from fatigue or could not work were called to the village council. There were wooden boards laid out there. A person was put on them and beaten. However, no one was shot. I heard about one case where a girl was shot. They say she was in a partisan unit. The Germans destroyed our apiary: they came in the middle of winter and smashed all the hives. The bees died. And the occupants took all the honey," the man says.

Once the Germans came to the MedynskyI family's yard and shot their pig. She was about to give birth to piglets.

"They took it away and ate it. I can't imagine how they could do that, with piglets in the womb. It was just horrible! The neighbors heard the shots and thought they had shot my father. They saw the blood in our yard through the fence," the interviewee recalls.

Great-grandfather killed by Nazis, grandson by Russians: How war took two Maksyms from Medynskyi familyPhoto: The Medynskyi family before the outbreak of World War II (Vitalii Nosach/RBC-Ukraine)

Once upon a time, Yurii's father was indeed almost shot. In the winter, on New Year's Eve, the occupiers organized a celebration at the school. In the morning, the Germans woke up shouting "Partisans!", waking everyone in the neighboring houses. They broke into the Medynskis' house. One of the soldiers raised his rifle and fired. The bullet passed over the head of Yurii's father, and a crack appeared in the wall. The children and their mother managed to run out of the house and hide behind the barn. They stayed in their shirts right in the snow until they were pulled out.

During the occupation, some treated the villagers humanely. When there was nothing to eat, one of the Germans came to Yurii's grandmother's house and poured a whole bag of white crackers on the table. Children from neighboring yards often played together, and sometimes the Germans would sit the children on a wooden counter, give them candy, and take pictures.

"I heard that they sent the photos home to Germany. If so, then some family probably has my childhood photo. Although I don't know who and where. And I will never know," says Yurii.

He searched for his father's grave for almost 30 years

On March 20, 1944, the troops of the First Ukrainian Front entered the suburbs of Vinnytsia. Many buildings were blown up, and the region's industry was almost completely destroyed. Despite the losses, people began to rebuild. It so happened that Vinnytsia was captured by the 4th German Mountain Infantry Division on July 19-20, and the same division retreated from the city on March 19-20, 1944.

Great-grandfather killed by Nazis, grandson by Russians: How war took two Maksyms from Medynskyi familyPhoto: Yurii Medynskyi carefully collects all the information about his ancestors (VitaliI Nosach/RBC-Ukraine)

But the war continued, and Maksym Medynskyi went to the front. Yurii and his mother went to see him off: they didn't know then that this was the last time they would see their father. He died on March 24, 1945, in Poland. As the years went by, Yurii grew up and wanted to find the place where his father was buried.

"Already in independent Ukraine, I heard radio programs dedicated to May 9, where my father was mentioned," says Yurii. "My mistake was that I did not record those programs. They said that their commander had been killed in the battles in Poland, and my father took over the command and they repelled the Nazi offensive. My father was awarded the Order of the Red Star.

During the Soviet era, Yurii Medynskyi almost graduated from a mining college in Tallinn, and in the 4th year of his studies, he joined the army. He entered the Lviv Military and Political School. He served as the head of the regimental club. Later, he was offered a teaching job, says Yurii's son, Serhii Medynskyi.

"My father agreed to be transferred to a distant garrison in Siberia. We lived there from 1968 to 1975. Then he served as a teacher in Stavropol at a military school and defended his dissertation. In 1985, with great difficulty, he transferred to Kyiv and later retired. He worked at the Road Institute, participated in the work of the Union of Officers of Ukraine, and compiled a book about the movement of Ukrainian officers. He wrote and published a book about the first commander of the Navy of independent Ukraine. He served as deputy head of the Ukrainian Cossacks. He organized and edited the Optimist newspaper," the man recalls.

Great-grandfather killed by Nazis, grandson by Russians: How war took two Maksyms from Medynskyi familyPhoto: Yurii's son Serhii worked as a military journalist and editor of a divisional newspaper (Vitalii Nosach/RBC-Ukraine)

All this time, Yurii kept searching for information about his father. It took him 27 years. He traveled to Poland and the Czechia. He searched in archives, and asked people. Eventually, with the help of the Red Cross, he managed to find out the burial place. He died near the village of Pelhzhymovytsi, Silesian Voivodeship, and was buried in a mass grave near the town of Pshchyna.

Yurii Maksymovych went there as soon as he could. The locals greeted him very warmly. It turned out that the priest knew in detail about the battles between the Soviet and German armies in these lands and where the soldiers were buried. The local administration quickly found his father's file. At his request, the Poles made an inscription on the monument. Yurii came there twice more. He planted a viburnum in honor of those who gave their lives for Ukraine.

It is important to preserve at least some stories about relatives who lived then, as a sign of respect for them., says Yurii Medynskyi. As a sign of respect for them.

Grandson killed in action in Kharkiv region

Yurii's grandson, Maksym Medynskyi, looks very much like his great-grandfather. "This photo especially shows that they look alike," the grandfather points to two portraits on the bench. But most of all, his grandson reminds him of his father because they were both decent and honest.

In the 1930s, during a wave of Stalinist repression, Maksym Medynskyi refused to sign denunciations against his fellow villagers. He said that one should not betray one's own. His grandson had the same views: he sought justice everywhere in his life. And like his great-grandfather, 70 years later he stood up to defend his homeland. Maksym went to war as a volunteer back in 2014. He returned a year later. He got married, and he and his wife Tetiana had a daughter, Alisa.

Great-grandfather killed by Nazis, grandson by Russians: How war took two Maksyms from Medynskyi familyPhoto: Maksym returned from the war and got married. The couple had a daughter, Alice. In 2022, he went to the front again (from his personal archive)

"Max was just the best person. He was the best husband, father, son, brother, grandson. As soon as any help was needed, he would instantly appear and help," recalls Maks' sister Oksana.

She and her brother were very close all their lives. Oksana is 8 years younger, but the age difference did not prevent the siblings from having common interests.

Great-grandfather killed by Nazis, grandson by Russians: How war took two Maksyms from Medynskyi familyPhoto: Maksym and his sister Oksana have been very close since childhood (from the personal archive)

"He took me to his university dormitory twice a year for the holidays, and I spent time with him and his friends. He raised me! The way I treat different situations in life now is thanks to him. It's the same with hobbies. I started riding a motorcycle thanks to my brother. He was fond of parachuting. And I jumped with a parachute when I was only 16. I didn't do it anymore, but my brother had more than 50 jumps," she says.

Great-grandfather killed by Nazis, grandson by Russians: How war took two Maksyms from Medynskyi familyPhoto: Oksana and Maksym had many common interests (from personal archive)

Maksym studied at Shevchenko University and worked as a journalist and communicator at the Energy Research Center at the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine.

When the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine began, he did not wait for a call and volunteered for the second time. He served in the 95th separate airborne assault brigade. In the spring of 2022, his unit was stationed in the village of Kurulka, Izium district, Kharkiv region.

On March 22, Maksym turned 33. On April 29, their positions were heavily shelled. The soldiers in the trenches were taking a roll call between Russian attacks. While the Russians were reloading, they took turns reporting whether they were alive. It was Maksym's turn, but he did not answer. His comrades approached him and saw that a piece of shrapnel had hit him in the head.

Great-grandfather killed by Nazis, grandson by Russians: How war took two Maksyms from Medynskyi familyPhoto: Yurii Medynskyi at the grave of his grandson Maksym (Serhii Medynskyi)

Maksym was buried in Ksaverivka, his wife's native village in the Kyiv region. He was posthumously awarded the Order of Bohdan Khmelnytsky for personal courage and the Order "For Courage" of the III degree for his contribution to Ukrainian journalism.

"Now, these days, we are not celebrating anything. We are remembering. After all, we now have two guardian angels in heaven," says Yurii.