On July 31 this year, Kateryna Handziuk was attacked with sulfuric acid. It caused severe chemical burns of her body. From this day we witnessed her struggle for life. We believed that she would return to us. But on November 4, Katia passed away. She spent 96 days at the hospital; went through 10 complex operations. Kateryna was 33 years old. Yesterday Kherson bade farewell to her.
On the square in front of the Youth and Students’ Palace, there are hundreds of people. It seems you know everyone here because of Kateryna. Personally, through common ideas, values, and projects. Today they gathered for the last meeting with their friend, colleague, like-minded and close person. People came from many regions of Ukraine.
Pain, emptiness, chaotic thoughts, anger and powerlessness… the words can’t express it. But it was necessary to speak. Someone had to do it because there were questions from dozens of journalists from all-Ukrainian TV channels and international news agencies. Everyone wanted to know about her features, activities, friends, and enemies, who committed this terrible crime.
It’s really difficult to make a portrait of Katia. First of all, you think, what she would have said about these words. Katia wrote perfectly… She was so smart, kind and rigid, straight and sarcastic. She was admired and was jealous of, loved and hated. It was very important to know Katia personally. And then you would say that she has a keen mind, she is intelligent, always highlights the main thing, has a sharp sense of justice, intolerance to greedy, stupid bandits in uniforms and behind-the-scenes politics.
Politics is her lifetime project. It interested her since she was young. In 2003 she becomes an activist in “Fatherland” and later becomes the head of Kherson “Young fatherland”. In 2004 Kateryna takes a significant part in the revolution. In 2006 she becomes a deputy of the regional council.
In 2012 together with like-minded people, she establishes civil journalistic agency “MOST” and a website that shows problems of local politics writes about corruption makes its own investigations. Among lots of local websites that look like a cheap billboard, “MOST” keeps principal editing policy on exclusive content, investigations, intelligence and safe sources.
Since 2012 she was working in “Young Football Volunteers: Sports and Volunteering for the Millennium Development Goals” project. Handziuk developed sports in rural Kherson districts working with pupils and PE teachers.
After the annexation of the Crimea by Russia and the beginning of the war on the Donbas, Handziuk took care of the fleeing population as a Legal Assistant to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Later she worked as a consultant to the International Organization for Migration project.
In 2013-2014, Handziuk takes an active part in the Ukrainian revolution of 2014. She holds her hand on the pulse of the local Maidan. Katia often travels to Kyiv with Kherson residents, where she experiences tragic days of February 2014, when mass shootings of protesters began.
In the spring of 2014 Handziuk actively opposes pro-Russian movements in Kherson. Thanks to her sharp word and oppressive texts, any attempts by the enemy’s propaganda to impose Russian idea of fraternal peoples failed. In 2015, Kateryna Handziuk leaves the party “Fatherland” due to an internal conflict. It was a very difficult step for her, but obvious, according to her principle nature.
During the local elections in 2015, Handziuk helps the acting mayor of Kherson, Volodymyr Mykolayenko to win the elections. In November 2016, she is appointed as an executive secretary of the executive committee of Kherson city council. This was the last official place of her work.
During this time, Kateryna got three diplomas of higher education. In 2006 she graduated from Kherson State University. In 2008 – Kyiv National Economic University. In 2016 – The National Academy of State Administration of the President of Ukraine. Until the last day of her life, Kateryna wrote analytical and scientific works on security, information warfare, propaganda, religion, local self-governance, conflict resolution.
You can collect hundreds of reviews online about Katia Handziuk. Her page is among the top-blogs of Ukrainian Facebook.
We asked her colleagues and good friends to recall what kind of person was Katia Handziuk.
Inna Zelena, Department of Public Relations of the Kherson City Council, a friend:
“Katia’s loss to me is a personal tragedy. I’ve lost not just a friend. For me, she was a close person. I don’t remember very well how I got to know Katia. It was in 2015, I was looking for a job and found her and Serhii Nikitenko. We became friends at once. And it seemed to us that we always had each other. I remember how we worked, it was always teamwork. I recall how we hanged in our small office a picture ‘I do not know who you are, but let’s go and conquer the world’. There was a superhero in front of it and we joked that that was Katia.
Katia always was in a hurry. She did everything very quickly. I was very surprised by how she made it all. She read all the cool books, she watched all the interesting series first, although she always had a lot of work and a lot of meetings. Katya could go to the three different cities of Ukraine in the morning, and in the evening she would come to our office to ask if we had done anything useful. She had enough time for everything. It seemed that all of us have 24 hours in a day, and Katia had 72.
I am very grateful to the fate that our paths have crossed. We managed to do so many things, even during these short three years we’ve traveled, read, watched series, talked and laughed a lot. No one could laugh so much as Katia. This laugh was heard everywhere, and all who heard it began to laugh too. Katya was unrestrained. And if she thought of something, it was necessary to bring it to life. As it was with Eurovision in Kherson. We have applied. It doesn’t matter, that we did not have a chance, because the town is small. But we are ambitious, and we showed that. Katia has always said that small towns deserve respect and attention.
Just before the attack, she comforted me when I had problems, and said that there is not such a way that a person was both smart and beautiful, and all that without any problems. She said that our life is so wonderful that we don’t have to worry about all sorts of miserable problems, and most importantly, that we will always have each other, even if we are far from each other. I don’t want to believe that she is no longer here. Katia will always be with me.”
Kateryna Mola, a friend:
“I know Katia for 11 years. I don’t want to talk about feeling, it’s too hard now. I just want to tell a few stories about Katia that few people know.
Everyone is accustomed seeing her as at the fierce fighter, brave, sarcastic person. And she was like that, it’s true. But there is another Katia. One day the border guards found in the desert, in Oleshky Sands, an exhausted and tired African. He was between life and death; he did not understand anything, did not speak in any of the known languages. Then (this was in 2014), Katia worked as UN officer, and at first, she could not understand who he was and what happened to him. But then she remembered that instead of cheerful student parties, she and her group mates literally forced the Turkish teacher to teach them Arabic script. And for the first time in life, this knowledge helped her – the boy was able to read what she wrote and even responded to her. They chatted a few days, and later it turned out that the guy was fooled by modern slave traders. They took him from his native country, but when they found out, that he was not as healthy as they expected, they simply threw him to die in the wilderness. Katia brought him medicine, made documents, found his family. In the end, it’s she who saved his life.
When refugees from Luhansk and Donetsk regions began to come to Kherson, many of them arrived almost without personal belongings, but with children. In autumn 2014, Katia launched her campaign “Let’s clothe the displaced children.”
Viktor Taran, the head of the “Eidos” center:
“We met in late 2005 – early 2006 at a meeting of young activists who, after the Orange Revolution, sought to join the changes in the country. I remember, as it was, the first moment I saw her. At the meeting, where everyone was sitting in formal classic costumes, comes a goth (!): long black hair, a long coat, and pink glasses. She immediately was noticed she wasn’t like everyone.
After the meeting, we walked from Lesia Ukrainka Square to Bessarabka and just talked. Even then, I was surprised how deep and systematic her thoughts were, she explained everything with simple and accessible words. To speak simply about the complex matters – this is the ability of talented people.
With Katia, I could talk about everything. As a rule, it happened in the evenings at my home and lasted almost until the morning. We discussed political processes in the country (in this regard, we even wrote some common articles), information wars, literary news. Or just talked about nothing.
However, it was often difficult with her. Katia was against the compromises. Especially with those whom she deeply despised. ‘You cannot tolerate fools’ – this is one of her favorite phrases, which passed through her entire life. Did we quarrel with her? Never. Did we discuss things? Yes, sometimes very sharp, loudly. However, even if she did not agree with the opinions of her friends, she always recognized the right of others to their position.
I want to see her again on the doorstep of my house, where she will appear, like a whirlwind, charging everyone with her unrestrained energy. The air will immediately smell like “intrigues and plans for the capture of the world”. We will be talking about everything till morning, agreeing that we will postpone all other plans tomorrow and will go and destroy the enemies like Russia, “Medvedchuk”, corrupt officials. That is all the rot that continues to destroy the country.”
Vasyl Arbuzov, a friend:
“I don’t know what words can explain the emptiness in the place where there should be pain and sadness. We talked a lot over the past year, but I’m not sure I have the right to call us close friends. First of all, we were ‘associates’. We could spend five hours speaking about the installation of the dictatorship of robbers and dumb-asses, which we have been watching for almost five years. We tried to understand whether there is a chance for us to bring to the logical end those things, for which five years ago we came to Maidan.
I still cannot bear Katia’s death, because I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an ordinary person in her. I saw a fighter, a patriot, a future leader of a powerful movement. Katia always gave a very clear assessment of what is happening. This was her talent. But her real superpower was that she could bring her thoughts to those who were ready to hear.
Many now call her courageous. This needs to be clarified. Fear accompanied her all the time, as I knew her. She was very afraid, that she would be attacked. She was afraid of persecution, she was scared that something will happen with her, her family, her friends. But she was convinced that it was impossible to remain silent at that time.
We talked about the risks. She perceived risks as a sign of honor for those, who died in the war and in the rear.
Everyone is asking what to do. I have no answer, but I’m sure it makes sense to try being more like Katia: start telling the truth, start assessing the events around, and eventually call evil as it is.”
Maksym Yelihulashvili, a teacher, coordinator of a number of all-Ukrainian initiatives in Kherson, public figure:
“I have very few close people. For the last years, almost all of them left my hometown. And this is not about drinking beer, parties or the possibility of borrowing. It’s about feeling, that someone is on the watch; someone holds the perimeter, allowing you to do what you want anywhere. She was that perimeter. Katia did everything on a high speed, with no compromises and getting a boost from politics, as a mean of change.
I can’t immediately remember where we met. Whether in lyceum, or during some public “meetings”. But perceiving of her as my own kin was during Maidan. In one of the first “carnival” days of protest, we brought all kinds of stuff. A bunch of people took flags, prepared posters, and went “wandering around”. But no one wanted to stand ‘on their hands and knees’ and glue UA and EU letters with colored tape. So we did it, glued and chatted. And then it was somehow formed. Only very differently. With some kind of identity of visions and ratings, friendly discussions, I somehow went into a comfortable multi-component, the equivalence of views. As it’s easier and safer. But Katia – didn’t, she kept that clear values’ polarity whether it is right or not. As if in her head there was a real moral compass and a ‘gut feeling’ of her people. No matter – left, right, popular or vice versa. And in that, she was complete. As if she understood that there is simply no time for gray.
There is a kind of stupid emptiness and incomprehensibility of everything as if there should be hatred, but it is not there, there is only a crazy surprise and shame. Because it always seems that, unlike her, you could have done something.”
Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, executive director of Transparency International Ukraine:
“I was fortunate enough to know Kateryna Handziuk personally. I can’t even remember at which of the parties, we met for the first time. In 2012, when we arrived with Lesia Orobets to Kherson in support of Mykolayenko and majority members from the opposition in the Kherson region, or later at a forum. We got acquainted during our Ukrainian school of political studies, where Kateryna Handziuk showed herself, in fact, as Katia: a thetic one in pursuit of justice and soft in personal communication, open to the limit and capable of maintaining the inmost, straight in the mutual unfriending on FB and a person, who appreciates friendship so high, that does not need these social networks. In Kyiv, we rarely found the time to meet as a group, but Katia always gathered us…
The last meeting with Katia was remote, when we together with Olha Aivazovska and Dariia Kalyniuk handed Angela Merkel a T-shirt with Katia’s print. I’ll reveal the secret, the German embassy in Kyiv until the last considered the opportunity of Chancellor’s visit to Kateryna. Unfortunately, we did not succeed. Although even this, as well as the words of support, did much more than all Ukrainian authorities who managed to notice Kateryna only after her death. This is not an accusation; your sympathy has simply no value, while the person who ordered the murder is free.”
Oleksandr Voronenko, the head of the training headquarters “ Oleshky Sands“:
“We met with Kateryna in the spring of 2014 on Facebook. I liked how she actively expressed our civil position on the war with Russia, as well as a number of issues, such as corruption in our upper echelons of power that is in favor of the enemy.
Of course, we quickly found it easy to talk to each other. In August I went to the front, as a member of ‘Aidar’ battalion, but we did not lose contact – we were constantly communicating. She helped me a lot – she gave the mobile phone that I needed at that moment. Then, after returning, we continued to communicate; often complained to each other for the same corruption, because I was in the military, and it is hard to imagine a more corrupt organization now. She, in her turn, told me about the squabbles of officials, mostly stupid and limited greedy people. Several times I was at her work. She also came to us on a training ground, she liked it here.
I loved her for honesty and frankness. Scolded her for excessive use of swear words. I will remember her energetic, blush, constantly running somewhere, solving something…”
Oleh Tkachuk, a journalist:
“We have met on the network in 2012. Sometimes we argued on different topics. We used to speak for the first time on April 26, 2013. Serhii Nikitenko met me on the street, suggested to do with them the website ‘MOST’. We discussed working moments, Kherson politics. The next time we met at the bar: talked more informally, talked about each other.
The first thing that united us is that we remember the first five presidential candidates in the 1998 elections: Kravchuk, Marchuk, Onopenko, Medvedchuk, Surkis. According to her, if a person remembers these surnames, then he knows about Ukrainian politics. We constantly talked with her and Serhii about politics, history, and art. She could talk about politics right up to the morning, but sometimes I could not stand such marathons – I fell asleep.
It was the common interests, similar political views, and persuasions that brought us together. I loved Katia for her sense of humor, constant energy, it always was very entertaining with her. She was able to motivate, create around her an atmosphere that immediately made you do something, create, and act.
The last time we saw each other on Christmas at her home. Communicated, had fun, even played on the pipe. She called me ‘son’, bearing in mind that she treats me as a child. Those were our relations: she tried to instruct, for some reason to teach. And, yes, getting acquainted with her seriously changed my life. Along with her, I always wanted to be better”.
Stanislav Troshyn, a deputy of the Kherson City Council:
“We met with Kateryna in 2002 during one of the youth actions on ecology issues. Then we began to meet more often because we represented different civic organizations during the coordination of actions on the eve and during the Orange Revolution. Since 2005, we have worked together in the ‘Young Fatherland’, where she moved from the Youth Party of Ukraine, and later to the Fatherland Party.
We were the youngest staff at the headquarters during the 2006 parliamentary elections and naturally became even more close friends. We went to quests, went to rock concerts, traveled for all possible workshops, conducted youth competitions on parkour, cycling, and more. We communicated with youth from other areas.
She always had a raised sense of justice. I recall the moment when, at the invitation of party members from the Henichesk region, we arrived in the village of Rivne, where the local landlord shot the villagers who were dissatisfied with his activities. We visited all these people, made a photo, collected photos of the wounded people and other documents as the basis for the deputy’s address and publications in the newspaper. On the way home the old car, which we drove, was constantly accompanied by a car with young well-built men. My colleague and I couldn’t believe that Kateryna is so calmly taking it all. Only when we went to the headquarters and closed the door behind us, Kateryna said: ‘It was very scary, but we have to help these people.’
We should remember the Revolution of Dignity. After a few weeks in Kherson, Katia realized that only joint coordination of the activists’ efforts throughout the country could lead to a result. After the first detentions, and even until the vote for Turchynov as acting president she did everything possible in order to keep safe activist from the Kherson region so that everyone would be free and had no consequences for studies or work. She was one of the most effective among the activists who organized the campaign ‘Kherson is Ukraine’ in 2014-2015. Like all of us, she sincerely devoted herself to this cause, because she clearly understood the consequences of the reverse process. I think her contribution to the Ukrainian Kherson will be appreciated.”
Roman Sinitsyn, a friend
“I read her in LJ, from 2000. Maybe we chatted, but on travel topics or something like that. I did not particularly watch her; knew that in Kherson she became a certain official or deputy after the Maidan. Once the military acquaintances from the 73 marine center drove from Ochakiv to ATO or vice versa, I don’t remember. And their car with a bunch of weapons was broken in Kherson. I asked for help. Katia ‘made it’ in 20 minutes.
Maryna Khromyk, a friend:
“We were the heads of ‘Young fatherland’ in our cities. Me – in Rivne, she – in Kherson. We met on one of the forums that were organized for us. We became friends during joint workshops and all-Ukrainian events. We always stayed in the same room. 100 times we slept in one bed. I really liked to talk to Katia. At that time I could put everything on its place, find some answers and understand how to work further.
We were united by the fact that we have always talked about how to move the country further towards a normal future. We could have a different look, but values have always been common – family, country, honest life, the truth as it is.
It was difficult to argue with Katia, it was easier to agree with her. I loved her very much because she had a brilliant mind. She had a very extraordinary analytical mind. I always knew that if I don’t understand or question something (in the context of politics and around it), then I could always ask her, and she would figure it out. I had a very difficult 2017; She, in particular, helped me to survive it. To find new meanings so as not to be disappointed in everything in the end, and on the contrary – to do something here in order not to lose our Ukraine.
I will remember her as a strong, honest and fearless person. A part of her is inside of me forever. And this part will help me to become better and not to give up.”
Text and photo: Ivan Antypenko