Father of two plays witness to war

Brother of fallen sheriff’s deputy is in Kyiv, Ukraine



WAR ZONE—Oleksandr Kostiuchenko is serving as a translator in Kyiv for a British newspaper. He is the brother of Ventura County sheriff’s Dep. Yevhen “Eugene” Kostiuchenko, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2014 while on duty in Camarillo. Courtesy photo

WAR ZONE—Oleksandr Kostiuchenko is serving as a translator in Kyiv for a British newspaper. He is the brother of Ventura County sheriff’s Dep. Yevhen “Eugene” Kostiuchenko, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2014 while on duty in Camarillo. Courtesy photo

Oleksandr Kostiuchenko said he didn’t know true pain until the day he buried his older brother and best friend, Yevhen.

Ventura County sheriff’s Dep. Yevhen “Eugene” Kostiuchenko was killed in October 2014 when a drunk driver hit him while he was conducting a traffic stop in Camarillo.

But the immense grief he felt eight years ago still does not compare to what he’s experienced over the past six weeks in his home country of Ukraine, where he’s serving as a translator for a British newspaper and awaiting a military assignment.

Oleksandr Kostiuchenko, 39, has seen the wounded face of a teenager who underwent five surgeries after being struck by bullets, and he has heard the cries of a mother whose young son died from seven gunshots.

From a hotel room in the capital city of Kyiv, Kostiuchenko spoke to the Acorn recently about the ravages of war.

“I believe I have to stand my ground. I cannot speak for all Ukrainian men, but this is my native city, this is my native country,” Kostiuchenko said.

LOCAL CONNECTION— Oleksandr Kostiuchenko, left, with his mother, Nadiia; his father, Anatoliy; his sisterin law, Maura Kelley; and then-Sheriff Geoff Dean during a 2015 ceremony at the Camarillo Police Station dedicating a portion of the 101 Freeway to Dep. Eugene Kostiuchenko, show at far left. Acorn file photo

LOCAL CONNECTION— Oleksandr Kostiuchenko, left, with his mother, Nadiia; his father, Anatoliy; his sister-in-law, Maura Kelley; and then-Sheriff Geoff Dean during a 2015 ceremony at the Camarillo Police Station dedicating a portion of the 101 Freeway to Dep. Eugene Kostiuchenko. Acorn file photo

Though his 34-year-old wife, Liza, and their two daughters, 13-year-old Arina and 6-year-old Polina, have left their home country, Kostiuchenko, like millions of others, will stay and fight.

“I have an open U.S. visa, and I believe if I wanted to, I could make it through the border either legally or illegally, but that was my choice, to stay here and be helpful to the maximum extent possible for my people,” he said.

Before the war began, Kostiuchenko was a data analyst for the Ukrainian Sea Ports Authority. His quiet life was shattered Feb. 24 when Russia invaded.

One day, Kostiuchenko said, he was wondering which mountain bike fork he should buy and the next he was wondering whether he and his family would live to see the next day.

“Despite the fact that in my mind I was prepared for the invasion, still it was a shock,” he said, recalling the 5 a.m. phone call from his friend informing him of the attack. “It is a shock when you see the shelling, when you hear the blasts of missiles and heavy artillery.”

Courtesy of VCSO

Dep. Eugene Kostiuchenko Courtesy of VCSO

The family of four stayed at their home for several days before seeking shelter in a garage in Kyiv. They felt the ground shake when Russian forces fired rockets at a nearby TV tower, killing at least five people.

“War is probably the most difficult thing psychologically because you are in stress and you’re prepared for something bad all the time,” Kostiuchenko said.

Although he had previously believed it was too dangerous for his wife and children to leave the country, they could no longer bear the brutality. He put them on a train to Poland on March 3 and watched as his whole world sped away into the night.

“It was a hard decision,” he said. “I had doubts. I had concerns.”

The moments before the train’s departure were filled with tears. His oldest daughter could not understand why her father would stay behind.

SEPARATED—Oleksandr Kostiuchenko, left, with his wife, Liza, and their two daughters, 13-year-old Arina and 6-year-old Polina. Courtesy photo

SEPARATED—Oleksandr Kostiuchenko, left, with his wife, Liza, and their two daughters, 13-year-old Arina and 6-year-old Polina. Courtesy photo

Under martial law, Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 must remain within the country’s borders. Kostiuchenko, however, said he would fight for his country no matter what.

“I’m prohibited from leaving the country, but I had no intention to do that. I wanted to stay.”

The goodbye was made more difficult knowing that the next day was Liza’s birthday.

“Only one hour separated us from being together, so I gave her a call at midnight and I said, ‘I love you, honey, and happy birthday,’” Kostiuchenko said. “She was crying. That was a bit tough—maybe not a bit.”

That night, Kostiuchenko slept at the Vokzalna Metro station because of the curfew. He returned to the garage, alone, the next day.

His wife and two girls went to Chernivtsi, a Ukrainian city close to the Romanian border, and he communicates with them as often as he can. His parents are in Kyiv.

A Daily Mail reporter who had interviewed the Kostiuchenkos at the Metro station offered him a job as a translator. He has been staying at a hotel in central Kyiv with his new colleagues for the past few weeks, and he hears raid sirens at least six times a day.

He described Ukraine’s status in the war as “stable but still shaky.” Kyiv remains strong but only in comparison to other cities, which he said are shelled on an hourly basis. Many citizens in the capital do not have access to food, water, electricity or gas.

Amid the darkness, Kostiuchenko finds hope in listening to the intercepted calls of Russian soldiers, who complain about the conditions and admit that Ukrainians have a higher quality of life.

“They came here to liberate us, to rescue us, and from what?” he said. “All they do right now is they loot, they steal, they burn, they rape.”

His brother was an officer in the Ukrainian military before moving to the United States and becoming a sheriff’s deputy. When Russia occupied regions of Ukraine in 2014, Eugene wanted to return to fight for his country.

“Right now, he would come back here for sure,” Oleksandr Kostiuchenko said of his brother.

Kostiuchenko has not yet been enlisted into the army, likely due to health reasons, but he said he is one of countless Ukrainian men willing to fight for his country and what it stands for.

“I’ve never held an AK-47 in my hands in my life,” he said.

But he knows others who also lack military experience and are destroying Russian tanks and vehicles.

“I will be able to do the same if necessary,” he said.

It is the kind, peaceful and accepting nature of his country’s people that motivates him to do what would have previously been unthinkable, he said.

Though his country still needs assistance, Kostiuchenko said, the support he has witnessed brings tears to his eyes.

“I would like the West in general— I don’t want to speak about any specific country—to provide us even more support,” he said. “Having said that, I would like to express my tremendous appreciation. I would like to thank all those people who support us.”

To help, Kostiuchenko said, donate to Come Back Alive, a Kyiv-based nonprofit that supports the Ukrainian military by providing protective equipment, training and technology.