She's got it 14:52 16 Feb 2023

"It is unbearably difficult to do alone what used to be done together": stories of businesswomen whose loved ones died at the front

Maryna Bodnar and Iryna Rubtsova are united by the fact that their husbands desperately stood for Ukraine's independence; both died in battle, and their bodies remain on the land captured by the enemy. The women continue to raise children and do their work in memory of their loved ones. We asked them how their own business helps them stay afloat and how they manage to keep up with everything without the support of their husbands.

"I don't know what will happen to me after the body is returned."

Wife of Oleksii Rubtsov with the call sign "Soldier" 

Iryna rescued her lover from the hands of war. She met Oleksii Rubtsov about eight years ago while volunteering. The girl was engaged in her own sewing business and, together with her friend, went to the hospital, where she created clothes for the wounded. One day, helping the defenders brought her together with "one of the leaders of hooligan circles." Oleksii Rubtsov was a member of  Kyiv Dynamo ultras — a football fan known for fanatical support of a football club.

"Oleksii exuded a sense of strength, confidence, and masculine energy," Iryna recalls.

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Since 2015, Rubtsov has fought in Azov Regiment. Against the background of hostilities, the couple's relationship developed, and soon a son, Myroslav, was born.

"If we hadn't had a son and I hadn't said that I wasn't going to raise him alone, he would have continued to serve," says Iryna. The man returned to his family, for which he later thanked his wife because it was difficult at the front — the defenders did not eat enough, did not sleep enough, and were constantly cold and sick. Oleksii found himself at home — with his beloved and newborn son. While the wife was on maternity leave, the husband assumed the sewing enterprise's director duties.

The Rubtsov company was launched in Kalyta, Kyiv region. This town once had a large sewing factory where Iryna's mother worked as a seamstress. Then the enterprise closed, but many sewists could not move to the capital to find work there. This is how opening a new enterprise just in Kalyta came about.

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The small enterprise made knitted hoodies, T-shirts, and other clothes. When Oleksii became its director, he was responsible for everything: meeting with clients and monitoring orders. Iryna helped control all processes during the maternity leave.

"Oleksii was very good at performing his duties, but for many years, he did not learn to distinguish between types of sewing machines. He said it wasn't for him," smiles Iryna Rubtsova.

Three years after the birth of Myroslav, the Rubtsov family had a daughter, Polina. The family's business gradually developed — about 2 – 2.5 thousand clothes were sewn monthly. And on the eve of the Day of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in 2021, Oleksii Rubtsov, together with familiar volunteers, launched a line of clothing named — Zalizna Syla Ukrainy, or Iron Force of Ukraine. Then all the money collected for the sold items went to help the fighters.

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On the eve of the full-scale invasion on February 24, the Rubtsov couple talked a lot about a full-scale war. Iryna believed everything would be fine, but Oleksii was convinced that russia would advance. That Thursday morning, the family awoke to explosions. 

"It has begun," said Oleksii. 

At the beginning of March, he took his family out of the Kyiv region and returned to the army.

Oleksii Rubtsov fought in the Kyiv region, and when the occupiers left the Kyiv region, he was transferred to Izyum in the Kharkiv region in the east of Ukraine. The man served in the Carpathian Sich, a Ukrainian special police battalion consisting of volunteers from Kyiv. Then he was assigned to the 72nd separate mechanized brigade named after the Black Zaporozhets as a reconnaissance platoon commander.

Later, he was transferred to the new Azov battalion, but something went wrong with the documents, so he ended up in the 58th separate motorized infantry brigade, where he stayed for only 12 days, the soldier's wife recalls.


Oleksii fulfilled his duties as a scout in the gray zone. There was often no communication in those territories. Iryna received the last message from her husband on September 14. In it, Oleksii wrote that he was going to work. It was the Bakhmut direction, one of the hottest zones of hostilities in the east of Ukraine.

Earlier, Oleksii would find an opportunity to send a message at least once a day, but there was nothing at all. Iryna wrote to her friends from Azov because she did not know anyone in the 58th brigade. They said that everything was fine and assured her that Oleksii was alive. It was their son's birthday — he turned six years old, but Irryna understood that the father was physically unable to congratulate Myroslav. On Sunday, around 11:30, she received a phone call from an unknown number; the man on the other end of the phone said everything was okay and Oleksii should come out of the gray zone in a few days.

But already on Monday, Iryna Rubtsova got a call and was told that her husband had died on assignment. Later, the news was confirmed by Oleksii's friend.


As it became known later, on the eve of the fight, Rubtsov was injured, he was supposed to be replaced on Saturday, but he refused this opportunity. He said that he is the most experienced among his comrades. Already on Sunday, he and his team failed to hold the position. The body of Oleksii Rubtsov remained somewhere on those lands… Today it is a deeply occupied territory.

"This is a very strange situation and condition. On the one hand, that's all, and he's gone. On the other hand, there has been no funeral, so there is no final point and no sense of loss. At first, everyone was afraid to call me and visit. And then they said: "You are holding yourself so well." The psychologist explained that I have delayed grieving, Iryna Rubtsova explains. She didn't believe the news at first.

Volunteers and acquaintances asked Irina not to divulge information about her husband's death so getting his body during the exchange would be easier.

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To exchange Oleksii 1 for 1. It happened with Roman Ratushny, a Ukrainian public figure, journalist, military volunteer, participant of Euromaidan, and a fallen participant in the Russian-Ukrainian war. When the enemies found out who he was, they wanted to exchange his body for ten living ones. In fact, in our case, silence has not affected anything. russian telegram channels posted a picture of Oleksii and the flag he was carrying with him, with the signatures of his comrades from Azov. But for some reason, they wrote that they destroyed the Azov SSO, Iryna recalls.

In November, information about the death of her husband was published in the Ukrainian mass media. Many acquaintances began to text Iryna to express their condolences.

The biggest derailment was the self-destruction of Oleksii's Telegram account. 

After Oleksii's death, Iryna sent messages to her husband. She said there was a feeling that someone was reading them. And then the man's account self-destructed. The messages simply do not get delivered. It was like losing the last chance to connect with your family, Iryna shares.

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Iryna took over all business affairs. She says that it is unbearably difficult to do alone what the couple used to do together. Physically, she doesn't have enough strength for all tasks. Iryna is also busy raising two children alone. But relatives and experienced seamstresses help a lot with running a business.

In December 2022, the second batch of Iron Power of Ukraine was sewn at the enterprise. More than 150,000 hryvnias were obtained for patriotic hoodies, which were used to buy a pick-up truck for the military.

Iryna says that the family's first task is returning Oleksii's body. The man said many times that he wanted to be cremated. And now his wife seems to have not fulfilled his request — he remains lying in the lands of Donbas.

"I don't know what will happen to me after the body is returned… I didn't cry at all at first. Then from the third month, when a lot of time had passed since the loss, I realized that I was missing tactile sensations. You can't touch your loved one, hug him. What saves me is that I run," says Iryna Rubtsova.

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Earlier, Oleksii Rubtsov qualified for the Invictus Games and was supposed to run a marathon in London. But it was postponed to April 23, 2023. When her husband died, the competition team offered Iryna to run a marathon for her husband. The woman is getting ready little by little. She says that she doesn't know how she'll do it now, but she must run it. The woman is training already. Everyone says that this is Iryna's salvation. Physics will help put the brain in order. And Iryna continues to run.

"Be strong, no matter what happens." Beloved of Vitalii Trukhan's, the call sign "Bitsuha"

Maryna Bodnar met Vitalii Trukhan in Mariupol, in the south of Ukraine, in 2019. She worked in Epicenter, one of Ukraine's biggest national chains of stores specializing in home improvement and gardening, and he was a soldier. While still a student, Vitalii "escaped" to the war from the university and served in the Chernihiv and Azov battalions. He linked his future life with the defense of Ukraine. On the eve of February 24, Vitalii was the chief sergeant of the Konovalets Military School.

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While working at Epicenter, Maryna looked a lot at the candles on the shelves of the store. The girl, fascinated by these products, began to create her own at home. Friends said this was not a serious occupation, so the girl gave up candle making. She returned to the hobby only a few years later, when she was already on maternity leave — Vitalii and Maryna had two sons — Matvii and Hennadii.

"I needed to switch to something. Vitalik asked what I would like to do. I told him about my past passion, and he supported me. At first, I made candles in the form of desserts. I tested the first products on my friends by giving them some of my products. They said they wanted to eat the candles with tea because they resembled real sweets. Then I realized everything turned out the way I planned," says Maryna.

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Maryna was inspired by products created in Europe and other countries. She always added something of her own to the ideas. Vitalii was proud of his beloved — he always took new candles to work.

"I made the silhouettes of a woman and a man; he always took the female silhouette with him," says Maryna Bodnar.

On the eve of February 24, Maryna actively took up her business: she promoted the social media page through targeted advertising, prepared to participate in exhibitions, accepted pre-orders for candles for International Women's Day, and the materials for their creation were already waiting at the post office. 

On February 21, Vitalii sent Maryna with two children to her parents in Chernihiv. The girl asked her boyfriend if there would be a threat from russia, and he answered: "They haven't advanced for eight years. And if they do, we are ready to meet them." On February 23, Maryna texted Vitalii that she wanted to return home. But he asked to wait at least until the 25th. russia started its full-scale invasion. On the morning of February 24, the girl wrote: "Vitalii, has everything started?". "Everything is fine; go to bed," replied Trukhan.

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Vitalii encouraged his relatives to leave Chernihiv in early March because everything was getting more dangerous in the city. The couple communicated until March 7, when the connection disappeared. For a week, Maryna stayed up until three in the morning just to wait for a message from her lover. But one day, she fell asleep, and at that moment, Vitalii was able to get in touch. He wrote that everything was fine and under control. He asked the girl not to panic and said he would definitely return. "Be strong, no matter what happens."

On March 18, Maryna Bodnar learned that her husband died at dawn on March 12. He died in battle in the Donetsk region, east of Ukraine. The man's body could not be returned to his relatives. 

When Maryna gradually recovered, she thought for a long time about what to do with the production of candles. The girl wanted to continue, but there was a fear that once she started, she would lose everything again. But thanks to her family, she gradually returned to work. The craftswoman decided that she would dedicate her works to the deceased Vitalii.

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"I rebranded in honor of Vitaliii. I chose turquoise and white for the colors. They remind me of the sea. I thought about the name for a long time… Something was constantly spinning, but not the name of the production, Bitsukha, Trukha, or simply Vitalii. Together with the designer, they selected options from Latin. One day she said to me: "Vitalius" means "vital," do you like it?" Maryna Bodnar recalls. "That will do," she thought then.

The assortment of the Vitalius store includes a candle of the same name and products dedicated to Azov members. $5.5 from each such sold candle goes to boxes for defenders returned from captivity, "Finally, you are home."


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Допис, поширений Свічки Candles (@vitalius_shop)

"We are trying to expand production. We recently developed aroma diffusers and are thinking about charity workshops for children who suffered from the war. The main plan for the future is to find premises for production. So that people can come there and listen to all the aromas."

Nowadays, the girl is already supported by her family and friends with her hobby and business. But the main driving force for the girl is her lover Vitalii Trukhan, who never doubted Maryna.


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