• How private is grief in wartime?

    Alina Mykhailova at the grave of her fiancé, soldier Dmytro Kotsyubailo. (this photo was shared by Alina online, indicating she is not opposed to its public use). Photo: Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

    A moment after this picture was taken, the woman held in an embrace in the centre broke into tears. Her legs gave way, and she collapsed, swallowed by grief.

    This is Alina Mykhailova, a fiancé of the Ukrainian military Dmytro Kotsyubailo. Known by the call sign Da Vinci, he was one of the most talented and respected young officers in the army. Recently, he was killed in a battle near Bakhmut.

    At his funeral on 10 March, the President of Ukraine, the Commander-in-Chief, the Minister of Defence and thousands of other Ukrainians stood down on one knee ― a mark of the highest respect.

    Photographers kept taking pictures, and images of the heartbroken woman went viral. This caused a debate in Ukrainian society: how ethical is the broadcasting of psychically and emotionally challenging moments of someone in such a position as Alina?

    One side says that Alina is a victim, and her right for privacy is sacred. The other side, which often includes journalists, insists this is war, and such expressions of grief are a significant part of it. To show this to the world is just and even necessary.

    “I watch this ― and in my guts I feel that Ukrainians exist and I’m among them. The woman in the photo turns all of us into a living, pulsating social body,” wrote art curator Olena Chervonyk in a widely read article.

    “It’s possible to nurture your Ukrainianness by other means. A person has the right to life and to death, which has to be respected even in such circumstances,” replied lawyer Larysa Denysenko. “This is not my pain, not my trauma, not my private space.”

    Alina Mykhailova is also a politician and a soldier, and probably has her own thoughts on this issue. But she has not yet shared them, as she has been spending long hours every day at Dmytro’s grave.

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