"He went through hell in hot spots": mother of the Hero of Ukraine and World Cup medallist tells about her son's intuition, calls from the frontline and the news of his death

Elena PavlovaSport
Vadym Zeleniuk was very determined and could fulfil all his dreams

At the end of August, Vadym Zeleniuk, a candidate for master of sports in judo and a winner of the World Combat Sambo Championship, was killed in action against the Russian occupiers in Donbas. With many sporting achievements behind him, the fighter from Khmelnytskyi had a successful military career, rising to the rank of major in the elite Omega special forces unit of the National Guard of Ukraine, was awarded the Hero of Ukraine for defending his country, and, according to his mother Nina Zeleniuk, dreamed of having a family and starting his own business. But his life ended at the age of 34...

In a conversation with OBOZREVATEL, Nina Semenivna spoke about the character of the Ukrainian athlete and defender, recalled the terrible day she learned of her son's death, and stressed how important sport was to him.


- It all started with freestyle wrestling, then Vadym started going to judo classes. And when he moved to Kyiv to study at the National University of Internal Troops after finishing 9th grade, he focused on martial arts such as hand-to-hand combat and combat sambo. And he represented these sports on behalf of the military.


Then he joined the Dynamo sports club and participated in all competitions, winning prizes in sambo, combat sambo and hand-to-hand combat tournaments.

- Why did Vadym choose a military career rather than a purely sporting one?

- He linked them - military and sports. Although, of course, sports was more important to him because he loved it and had been doing it since childhood. He lived by sport and could not do otherwise. But after the war with Russia started, of course, his military career came first. He has been going on missions since 2014, as he was a member of the Omega Special Forces of the National Guard of Ukraine.


- We talked to Vadym's friends in Kyiv and found out that he was also a regular walrus hunter. Where did he get this habit from?

- It all came from sports. Since childhood, he liked to douse himself with cold water, and in Kyiv he joined a walrus club and always liked to please his mother with photos. He would send pictures of him swimming in the winter. He liked it very much. And at the same time, it was a sporty and healthy lifestyle that he loved, valued and led personally.

- All those who remembered Vadym emphasised that he was very intelligent and could have made a career in virtually any other field.

- Yes, he was very persistent and determined. In fact, he had a very developed intuition. And everything he undertook, he had to see through to the end. And he succeeded in everything. He set himself a very high standard and very high goals in life. I know that all of his dreams would have come true if not for the defence of his native land.


- And what did he dream of, if you can tell us?

- To have his own business, to have his own sports club, because he was very fond of children and loved to train them. Of course, he also dreamed of having his own house. In fact, he managed to achieve a lot. But the most important dream did not come true because his life ended very early - at the age of 34. He promised that everything would be fine, he would have a family, he dreamed about it, and we can say that it was already in the offing. But, unfortunately, all his dreams remained with him.


- Were there any attempts to dissuade him from a military career? Especially after the war started in 2014.

- You know, there have been all sorts of things. But knowing his son, knowing his attitude to life, he could not have done otherwise. Because he loved Ukraine very much and there was no question of going abroad to work. He lived in Kyiv, he lived the life of Ukraine. Of course, he was also a military man. And he was good at everything. He had the skills to use all kinds of weapons. He knew how to use them, so there was no question of him not defending his country.


- Even during the full-scale war, Vadym went through the hottest spots - Izium, Sievierodonetsk... Did you know about his work?

- He hadn't told us anything before, although, of course, he went on all his missions. The first time he seriously told us about it was on the first day of the full-scale invasion. He was very worried about us, so he called us and said that things had started very seriously. But he did not admit that he was already in a hot spot. Of course, we were still worried and asked him to take care of himself.


But he always said that everything would be fine, and he always wrote: "Mum, I love you, I kiss you. I'm fine." And he asked us: "Take care of yourself". He was very kind and sincere. In fact, he helped everyone a lot, helped his friends during this war. And he himself was going through a real hell in all these hot spots. But who else but these specially trained units? Because many people were not ready for such an invasion, for such a serious war.


We did not expect this and had no premonition that anything could happen to Vadym. We have always been worried about him because he has always been determined and always succeeded. He always achieved his goals... But, unfortunately, apparently, heaven also needs such angels - heroes who will protect us from there. And I promised that I would be as strong as he was.

- When did you find out about Vadym's death? I know that the tragedy happened near Avdiivka.

- Yes, near Krasnohorivka on 22 August. It was a Monday. And the day before, on Sunday, he called me. These last two months - July and August - when he was on a mission, he always found an opportunity to call me just for a minute and say: "Mum, I'm fine. Don't worry. How are you?" He was in very close contact with me. But I didn't feel that it would be like that...


At first, they didn't tell me. They called my daughter. My father and I were at home because we were on holiday. She called at about three o'clock, asked where we were and asked us to be at home, she would be right there. I immediately felt that they had already called, because she had never spoken like that before. And I said: "That's it, Vadym must be gone".


And on August 26, on Friday, he was brought home to us. Thank God that we saw him, were able to kiss him and walk him down the last path of his life.

The funeral service was attended by many of his friends, athletes. Apparently, they came straight from the hot spot and brought him. Thanks to them, I think we were able to see Vadym for the last time. Because there are different cases. And we were able to see him and send him off as we should. This was the most important thing for us. If his body hadn't been found, I don't know how hard it would have been.

Nina Zeleniuk's Facebook

- You know, I don't want to end on such a sad note. Perhaps you can recall a story about Vadym that cheers you up?

- Vadym loved life in all its manifestations. He loved to relax, meet friends and go outdoors. The last pleasant meeting we had with him was when we went on holiday together. Dad turned 60 years old, and he gave us such a gift. The three of us went on holiday. And those were the kind of days you will never forget.


We spent a week together on holiday for the first time in all the years he lived in Kyiv. He rarely came home because his military work and sports career took up so much of his time. And this holiday is the best memory I have in recent years.


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