Kyiv, Ukraine – Volodymyr Yezhov was one of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers killed in Russia’s war in Ukraine.
He joined the army shortly after Russian tanks rolled into towns and cities including the capital, Kyiv, telling his family he wanted to fight for his country’s freedom.
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In an interview with Al Jazeera, his brother, Slava Yezhov, recalled how Volodymyr was proud to be Ukrainian, taking part in pro-Western protests in 2014.
Those rallies ultimately toppled the government at the time, and ran former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych out of Ukraine.
So Slava was far from surprised when Volodymyr, a father of two, enlisted to fight against the Russian invasion.
While serving in Bakhmut, Volodymyr created a messenger group for his family so he could keep in touch with them.
“Every morning, before going to the mission, he would say we are going to the mission,” Slava said.
“And every evening, when they got back, he messaged us that he is back safe.”
But last month, one of those messages failed to arrive as battles raged in eastern Ukraine.
“My father made a call to me. I couldn’t believe it, and I didn’t want to believe it. But it was a hard time for us all,” Slava said.
Having grown up in northern Ukraine, Volodymyr worked as an online games tester and developer in the capital city, Kyiv.
He helped create a popular game called Stalker. The face of one of the game’s characters was modelled on his.
As the brothers communicated via a messaging app, Slava said it was increasingly clear how much the war was impacting Volodymyr by the expressions on his face.
But even as he mourns, he still believes Volodymyr would not have backed out.
“I am sure that he would have done it again,” he said.
Ukraine says more than 13,000 soldiers have been killed in the war. Russia rarely acknowledges its losses; in September Moscow said 6,000 troops had been killed.
The real numbers are feared to be much higher than official tolls. A top United States general recently said about 100,000 soldiers on both sides had likely been killed.