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“We met in the Pentagon”

This is a story about a military psychologist and a de-mining expert


The phrase “Everyone fights on their own front lines”

means exactly what it says for this couple

The 175th day of the war, Wednesday


“Ukraine” – me and Serhii stood up. At that moment, I had a myriad of thoughts and feelings. I was so shocked that I waved at him and smiled like a complete idiot. He already knew who I was, but he had not gotten to know me until that moment. And I had seen him in the lobby of the hotel and took him for a foreigner.


“Don't fall in love, he is a foreigner.”

SHE:

... My name is Viktoriia, I am a military psychologist. Some 5 years ago we were in the USA for a training course for American officers. Several places were available for foreigners, and we were accepted. We were on different bases in different states, and we met in Washington for the first time.


We had a gathering for international military trainees with a week-long tour in the capital. Honestly speaking, when I saw him for the first time, I immediately fell in love. I noticed he did not look like a European. And I cautioned myself against the idea: “Don’t fall in love, this is a foreigner. Do you really need this? You are a military servicewoman, and you will have to go back home.”


On the very same day, our curator organized a get-to-know-each-other evening. He was naming the countries, and the representatives of those countries would stand up. When we heard our country being named, we both stood up. I heard there was someone else from Ukraine. One week before that day, I was trying to find him in social media to meet and chat before the meeting. But I could not find him.


Then, during a tour of the Pentagon, he met me on my way to the bathroom. I was in a hurry, but he said: “I’m going to the pub with the guys tonight. Would you like to go with me?”


Our first date looked like this: a group of five people (from El Salvador, Tunisia, and Armenia), Serhii and myself.


The whole week while we were there, we were constantly in touch. I even whitewashed him in front of his management.


HE:

On the day we met, there was a meeting of all trainees with their attachés from different countries at the Pentagon. Our country’s attaché was approached and was told about some international Paralympic competitions being held on those days, in which our veterans would participate.


“It would be very cool if you and Viktoriia came.”


No problem for me, I am always happy to. But there came a surprise...


When we were walking from the pub to the hotel, my friend and I started fooling around. Consequently, I cut my forehead so badly that I had to sew it up at night because we could not stop the bleeding. It was seemingly a small wound, but you could not change the fact. I called the attaché to say I would not be able to be there the next day, but I was feeling so ashamed of the thought: “A Ukrainian representative arrived and got his forehead injured.”


I called the General to let him know of the situation. I informed him that Viktoriia would come alone. He took it calmly but said: “We’ll talk later.” Back then, Viktoriia was telling such a fabulous story that no one had anything against me. They all would only say: “It's okay, Viktoriia has already taken the rap.” At that moment, I realized that she could be relied on in any situation.


17 hours on FaceTime

SHE:

Then we travelled to different states. For some reason, I thought we would never meet again. But Serhii called me every day, on FaceTime. We would even be sleeping at night without hanging up! We just put our phones on our pillows and fell asleep like that. And whichever woke up first would wake the other, since we would still stay connected on FaceTime all night. Our longest video call lasted 17 consecutive hours.


When the Americans had days off for their national holidays, Serhii would travel 1,500 kilometres from Missouri to South Carolina to visit me. We went to the ocean and spent four days there. Well, after that I completely lost my mind...


He returned to Ukraine in December, and I stayed in the USA until February. Serhii was waiting for me, and he met me. On February 15, the day I was travelling back to Ukraine, he even skipped the start of his next rotation with the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO). He made up some excuse for his unit commander and left for duty two days later.

“She will be my woman!”

HE:

Four days before the first meeting, I learnt that Viktoriia was Ukrainian. She was studying in preparatory courses in Texas, and there I knew some people who studied with me.


When we headed off to the airport and from there to Washington, we were given folders with lists of representatives. A guy from Armenia who was on that course in Texas came up to me saying: “Do you know her?” and showed a photo on Facebook. Me: “Oh, good!”


Back then, I hardly used social media, and I did not have a Facebook account. Only then, when we were already in Washington, I saw her sitting and smiling, time and time again. Her curly hair was all over her forehead, her white teeth were shining, her eyes were glowing… And I thought to myself: “She will be my woman!”


I think it is more important than a marriage stamp in your passport – to be connected to a woman mentally, morally, physically and intellectually, and vice versa. When you are tied not by a date of your wedding, but by moral principles.


WE HAD SEEN EACH OTHER 17 TIMES BEFORE THE PROPOSAL

SHE:

I had been proposed around ten times before. Friends, even guys I did not really date. My parents were puzzled over my refusals, but I wanted to wait for the one.


I had that feeling with Serhii at our first glance. That’s why I did not even have to think about it and agreed. Although he, just like me, had walked away from a long-term relationship shortly before our trip to the US. And he might have thought, just as I did, this could not have been serious.


Serhii proposed to me while we were enjoying the panorama view from the tower of the Lviv City Hall, (adding jokingly) he had let us climb the highest point so that I had nowhere to run.


HE:

I counted that by the moment I proposed, we had seen each other 17 times: five-six days in Washington, four days in the Hilton hotel on the island, then two days when I welcomed her from the US and in March, when I had already moved to Kyiv after rotation. And on April 18, we already went on our vacation together to the Lviv city.


Five years have passed.

SHE:

After February 24, I could not sit still here, knowing what was happening there. I decided to help as a military psychologist. I am still learning, even after 14 years of education and experience. I still have business trips: now and then I visit different places for a week or two.


HE:

We discussed the nature of our work long before the invasion. We both are officers, patriots and parents. And we respect each other’s decision and wiliness to fulfil our duty to our homeland and be useful.


I knew I had no moral right to say to my wife: “You are going to stay at home and do the cooking.” Therefore, we agreed that each of us would do what was right for ourselves. That was the only way of thinking for us.


We took our son to our relatives. It was easier for us knowing he was there, with them.


A HELMET, ARMOURED VEST AND DEMOLITION CONTROL STATION AS A GIFT FOR HOLIDAYS

HE:

At the beginning, we were not able to see each other at all. The first time we met was on March 9, and our meeting lasted for about three minutes. I was involved in activities in the Kyiv suburbs, I stopped by for some business in the city and I brought Viktoriia a helmet as my gift for the March 8 holiday. We gave each other a hug, looked into each other’s eyes and said: “That’s it.”


SHE:

Then a month later, when we were in Donbas, he gave me a bulletproof vest. It so happened that we were presenting each other only the things we needed. On Serhii’s birthday, I presented a small demolition control station because he is a de-miner.


After February 24, the circumstances were so aligned that I was following him everywhere – I was there where he was, because we both got to perform our tasks in the same locations. But we could only meet for a few minutes, literally a few minutes. Once we managed to spend the whole hour together, and we were talking.


SHE:

We both have decided that we should not serve in the same unit. We would not have been able to perform our duties as efficiently as possible, because we would have worried about each other and put ourselves and the entire unit at risk.


When I am in hot spots, my thoughts are mainly about my son. For me, this even serves as a stronger motivation to survive, to complete my task as fast as I can and to do it well so that we can win this war as soon as possible.


HE:

Personally, I never think of dying, so in any extreme situation, the first thing I am focused on is how to get out of it. So, when we are working with the artillery on the position, I do not get to sit and think: “God, where is my Vika? Where is my son?” Not at all. I always think about what to do so that I can see them again.


Diary

SHE:

We have our own diary. We bought it when we were still in the US and have kept it ever since. Sometimes I had it, sometimes I sent it to Serhii. We wrote down all our thoughts and feelings there. Nowadays, we add our notes less often, but on some days we take our diary and read it through. We sometimes make a record of something we want to share when not being able to talk about our thoughts.


HE:

I always try to understand her. Even when I do not. I may go and pick her up at the train station and tell her: “Oh, we need to talk.” Because every psychologist needs to see a psychologist too.


I don’t even remember us arguing about anything at all during the past years. And those are not quarrels, but just getting things clear. We try to solve everything through discussions, and the time has come when we have two opinions.


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