Ukrainian refugee returns to war zone to bring ashes of husband killed in battle back to Winnipeg

Hanna Sidorchenko is making a solemn trip back to Ukraine just months after leaving the war-torn country for Winnipeg after her husband was killed in battle.

Sidorchenko boarded a flight from the city on Friday headed for Kyiv in hopes of finding the body of her husband Andrii Sidorchenko, 35, and bringing his cremated remains back to Manitoba.

“Andrii would tell her he would return from combat so they could live together here in Winnipeg,” Hannah said through her friend and translator, Oksana Lazarenko, who accompanied her on the emotional journey home.

“It was his dream to come to Canada.”

Andrii stayed in Ukraine to serve when Hannah and their son Rostyslav made their way to Winnipeg via Poland earlier this year.

Hannah said Andrii stayed positive despite the dangers around him.

He was a drone operator in the war, and his main role was to scan battlefields for Russian enemies to “minimize losses” to Ukrainian forces, Hannah said.

A Ukraine Armed Forces member holds a drone control and smile in a photo.
Andrii Sidorchenko smiles while operating a drone in Ukraine. (Submitted by Hanna Sidorchenko)

She heard on May 5 through relatives, a friend of Andrii’s and fellow soldiers that he died in battle in the eastern city of Bakmhut. Hannah said two other soldiers were killed in the same battle and two others were injured.

Hannah is returning to learn more about the circumstances of Andrii’s death.

Andrii dreamed of moving the family to Canada before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. Those plans changed when the war got underway and he had to defend Ukraine.

Andrii had collected photos of Canada. He worked as a welder in Ukraine and wanted to do the same here.

His body has thus far gone unaccounted for but Hannah hopes to change that.

“There are like active battlefields so we can’t go close … because if she was allowed to go she definitely would and find him herself,” Hannah communicated through Lazarenko.

A woman with dirty blond hair stands outside an airport.
Hanna Sidorchenko boarded a plane at Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport to Montreal en route for Ukraine on Friday. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Once they arrive in Kyiv, Lazarenko and Hannah plan to connect with lawyers, volunteers and people on the front line to try to track down Andrii’s last known location.

The trip back was made possible thanks to a Winnipeg church.

Soul Sanctuary lead pastor Gerry Michalski said the congregation raised money to cover Sidorchenko’s travel costs and more.

“People, I think, really felt her pain,” said Michalski.

A mother and father pose with their son in a forested area.
Hannah Sidorchenko, left, her son Rostyslav Sidorchenko, centre, and his father Andrii Sidorchenko. (Submitted by Hannah Sidorchenko)

Michalski said the extra money collected will help furnish her apartment in Winnipeg when she gets back. She and her son have been sleeping on air mattresses.

If they manage to find Andrii’s body, Hannah wants to hold a funeral for him in Ukraine, then bring his ashes back to Canada.

“She needs to find strength in herself,” Hannah said through Lazarenko. “It’s pretty hard.”

Widow returns to Ukraine to find husband’s body

6 hours ago

Duration 1:56

A Ukrainian woman living in Winnipeg has started an emotional journey home. Hanna Sidorchenko left Ukraine with her son after Russia invaded, but her husband stayed to defend the country. He was killed earlier this month. Now she’s returning to Ukraine to learn more about the circumstances of his death and find his body.