As Russian troops closed in on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, Anastasia Yalanskaya insisted she would stay, even while her friends and family fled around her.
The young Ukrainian woman was delivering food to a dog shelter in Bucha, 30 kilometers outside Kyiv, on Friday when she was shot and killed alongside two men she had been volunteering with.
Yalanskaya’s friends and family say her car was deliberately targeted at close-range by Russian troops. Global News has been unable to confirm the circumstances of her death.
Friends do not know why she was targeted, but believe Russian troops are increasingly targeting civilians at random as a way to scare the population into submission.
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“I asked her to be extra cautious. That nowadays, a mistake costs extremely much,” her husband Yevhen Yalanskyi says.
“But she was helping everyone around. I asked her to think of evacuation but she did not listen.”
Despite denials from Russian President Vladimir Putin, the number of civilian casualties in Ukraine is mounting – though the total number remains unclear.
As of March 1, the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine said it has recorded 752 civilian casualties. The next day, Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said 2,000 civilians had been killed.
Friends believe she was killed at close-range
Yalanskaya had been delivering food to a dog shelter that had been without food for three days in Bucha, which is near Irpin, a town in the crosshairs of Russian bombardment as the invaders closed in on Kyiv.
Her final Instagram story, posted just hours before her death, shows her sitting in the backseat of a vehicle, smiling into the camera, beside bags of dog food.
Yalanskaya’s best friend, Anastasia Hryshchenko, who evacuated to Vinnytsia, 250 kilometers southwest of Kyiv, raised the alarm about her friend after she hadn’t heard from her in several hours.
Hryshchenko says she had been in constant contact with Yalanskaya, due to dangerous areas around Kyiv where fighting has intensified in recent days, including the area where her friend was delivering food and medical supplies.
When Yalanskaya didn’t respond for several hours, she contacted the father of a man that Yalanskaya had been volunteering with. The trio were due to return to his house after their trip.
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He told her he had found his car, riddled with bullets, not far from his house, Hryshchenko says. They had delivered the dog food and had almost gotten home.
The damage to the car indicated it was fired at from a close distance and from a “heavy weapon,” she says.
Though there has been no formal identification of her body, Yalanskaya was carrying her driver’s license and has distinctive tattoos that were identified by friends. Her body remains in a morgue in Bucha, because the fighting is so intense no one can get through, Hryshchenko says.
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“Not being able to help her last journey is very painful for me,” Yalanskyi says. He and Yalanskaya were separated but remained extremely close, he says, a fact which other friends also spoke about. He is currently in Sri Lanka.
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“She was one of the best human beings I knew. She was committed to help, to help her friends and relatives and whoever needed help,” Yalanskyi says.
“She loved animals. We had a dog and a cat. She was the best partner I ever had.”
‘We will all be together soon, safe and at peace’
Yalanskaya, a job recruiter, had been keeping a daily blog on Telegram to inform her friends and family of her surroundings as she delivered aid around the region.
On Saturday, February 26, she wrote on the channel in Russian, after having spent the night sleeping in a parking garage due to bombing fears: “Now I realize even better how important it is to be able to just see the loved ones whenever you want.”
“We will all be together soon, safe and at peace. I believe in it.”
In the preceding days, she chronicled her volunteer work and spoke of her talks with the Ukrainian Armed Forces at checkpoints, saying she was proud of being Ukrainian “for the first time in my life.”
On Tuesday, she wrote about helping a kindergarten in Brovary, just outside Kyiv, where 40 children were without food and diapers, as well as bringing aid to a military hospital and bringing food for volunteer dogs.
“We are not scared. We are united like never before. We help each other. We stand for hours at roadblocks and thank those who protect us,” she wrote. “We will win.”
On Wednesday, Yalanskaya wrote her longest post, detailing her thoughts and feelings from her week of volunteering.
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She spoke of needing to drive with the windows half-open to hear which side of the road the shelling was on and to “step on the gas” while driving past the forest.
Hryshchenko says Yalanskaya had told her the fighting was particularly intense around the forest.
“Do not slow down” signs must be obeyed, Yalanskaya wrote, otherwise “you can hear random sh_t exploding right next to the wheels.”
She wrote of visiting people to drop off supplies 20 kilometers from the fighting and 200 meters from the fighting.
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“The ‘hotter’ the location you are heading to, the more people there will be at the roadblocks trying to dissuade you from going. But when they see the determination in your eyes, they will wish you strength, they will thank you, and ask you to be careful.”
On Thursday, Yalanskaya outlined her plans for the next day — the day she would die.
“I am tired. Third day in the car,” she wrote. “Could not get to Irpin. They blew up the bridge where I went yesterday.
“Tomorrow we’ll try to enter from another side.”
‘She was never proud to be Ukrainian’
Yalanskaya’s friends are reeling after her death, though they are not surprised that she was helping people, as it was what she was known for.
Hryshchenko says Yalanskaya was a “kind and caring person” and “she could energize everyone around her.”
While people had asked her to evacuate for her own safety, Yalanskaya was “absolutely sure she was needed there,” she says.
“She was a very good person, she was always helping everyone, she wouldn’t do anything else.”
Hryshchenko says civilians are now increasingly being targeted, especially around Kyiv.
“They’re just randomly shooting people. They see civilians and they just shoot them,” she says.
“They want people to be scared and horrified. But it only makes our people braver.”
Valeria Gorska, a former colleague and friend, said “the world should know that she’s a hero.”
“She was helping people. She believed in people.
“I knew her three years ago, and I knew her now, and I saw a change in her recently. She was so strong. And she was never proud to be Ukrainian.”
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