Ukrainian Journalist Who Voluntarily Returned to Active Duty Killed in Combat

May 5, 2022Nolan Peterson
Oleksandr Makhov

Oleksandr Makhov in his military uniform on Feb. 24, 2022, the first day of Russia’s full-scale invasion. Photo courtesy of Oleksandr Makhov.

KYIV, Ukraine — A prominent Ukrainian journalist was killed in combat on Wednesday, May 4, while serving as a front-line soldier near the town of Izyum in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region. A combat veteran of Ukraine’s military campaign in the Donbas, Oleksandr Makhov, 36, who was a well-known war reporter in Ukraine, returned to active-duty military service after Russia’s full-scale invasion in February. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted Makhov’s death during an online address on Wednesday, calling the fallen soldier a “hero.” 

Today I will start with a story about one person. About Oleksandr Makhov — a well-known journalist,” Zelenskyy said. “I’m sure you’ve seen his reports on Ukraine and Dom TV channels. You may have seen his comments, his posts. He has always been like that — with his own position. Patriotic and sincere … he was always among the bravest.”

Ukrainian journalist Oleksandr Makhov
Oleksandr Makhov on assignment as a journalist at a position in Ukraine’s eastern war zone. Photo courtesy of Oleksandr Makhov.

As a media member, Makhov could have deferred military service. Yet, in a conversation with Coffee or Die Magazine in February, just weeks before the full-scale war, Makhov explained that he’d already made up his mind about returning to active duty, should Russia invade. 

“Even though I’ve already put down my gun and stopped being a soldier, my war never ended — it’s just been on pause,” he said.

As Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s borders portended a wider war this winter, Makhov prepared a “veteran’s suitcase” with all his required military gear, ready to go on a moment’s notice. As a member of Ukraine’s first operational reserve, Makhov said he needed to be ready to report for active duty within 24 hours. 

“I tell myself that if I have to go back, I will flip on a switch and be a soldier again,” Makhov told Coffee or Die. 

veteran's suitcase
Oleksandr Makhov and his “veteran’s suitcase” at his home in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo by Nolan Peterson/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Weeks later, while on the front lines in eastern Ukraine, Makhov proposed to his girlfriend, Anastasia Blyshchyk, through a video message in which he dropped to a knee and offered the pull-ring on a grenade as a temporary substitute for a proper engagement ring. 

On Wednesday, Blyshchyk posted a message on Facebook about Makhov’s death. It read: “I do not believe this! This cannot be true! My Sasha wanted to live!” 

Eight years ago, Makhov was a self-described pacifist with no desire to ever be a soldier. He was totally content doing “normal journalism” in his hometown of Luhansk, Ukraine. 

Oleksandr Makhov and fiancee Anastasia Blyshchyk
Oleksandr Makhov parting ways with his fiancée, Anastasia Blyshchyk, on Feb. 24, 2022, the first day of the full-scale war. Photo courtesy of Anastasia Blyshchyk/Facebook.

In April 2014, Russian forces invaded Luhansk and upended Makhov’s life. He lost his home and became estranged from members of his family who were sympathetic with Russia’s cause. After a brief stint of war reporting, Makhov, then 28, enlisted in Ukraine’s regular army in August 2015. He handled a gun for the first time in basic training and fired only 200 practice rounds before returning to the Donbas as a soldier in Ukraine’s 57th Motorized Brigade

“I felt that what I did as a journalist was not enough,” Makhov told Coffee or Die in February. “I wanted to fight the enemy as a soldier.” 

After leaving military service in October 2016, Makhov resumed work as a journalist. In addition to front-line reporting from the Donbas war zone, he also filed stories from Antarctica. 

During the subsequent years, Makhov traveled across Ukraine, teaching classes on combat reporting to Ukrainian journalists. The war prevented him from returning to his hometown of Luhansk, which remained under Russian occupation. 

Izyum Ukraine front line
An aerial photo of Makhov’s front-line position near Izyum, Ukraine, sent to Coffee or Die Magazine on April 23, 2022. Photo courtesy of Oleksandr Makhov.

Out of the army, Makhov lived in an emotional no man’s land between war and peace. The shadow of the ongoing war in the Donbas and its potential to escalate into a bigger disaster paralyzed Makhov’s post-war life. His civilian friends booked vacations six months ahead, but he struggled to plan anything more than one month away.

“The war never ended for me,” Makhov said in February. “I was never able to put the war on a shelf and forget about it.”

Makhov returned to active-duty service on Feb. 24, only hours after Russia’s full-scale war began. That day he sent a photo of himself in uniform to Coffee or Die with the simple message, “I am in the army now.” 

Regarding Russia’s full-scale invasion, he wrote, “I expected it to happen.” 

Oleksandr Makhov
A photo Makhov posted to his Facebook page on April 28, 2022, showing a wound he received in combat near Izyum, Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Oleksandr Makhov/Facebook.

On April 23, Makhov sent this correspondent an aerial photo of his unit’s front-line position near Izyum. The image showed an artillery-blasted field that resembled a World War I no man’s land. 

“The Russians are trying to break through our defenses,” Makhov wrote.

On April 28, Makhov posted to Facebook a photo of a combat wound on his right arm. 

“Heavy fighting. I’ve been nicked by shrapnel. I remain on duty,” he wrote, adding: “Before the wedding with Anastasia Blyshchyk everything will heal.”

Read Next: Ready for War Within 24 Hours, a Ukrainian Combat Veteran Lives in Limbo

Nolan Peterson
Nolan Peterson
Nolan Peterson is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine and the author of Why Soldiers Miss War. A former US Air Force special operations pilot and a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Nolan is now a conflict journalist and author whose adventures have taken him to all seven continents. In addition to his memoirs, Nolan has published two fiction collections. He lives in Kyiv, Ukraine, with his wife, Lilya.
More from Coffee or Die Magazine
Coffee Or Die Photo
From the Team Room to Team Room Design: An Operator’s Creative Journey

BRCC partners with Team Room Design for an exclusive T-shirt release!

Coffee Or Die Photo
Get Your Viking On: The Exclusive 30 Sec Out BRCC Shirt Club Design

Thirty Seconds Out has partnered with BRCC for an exclusive shirt design invoking the God of Winter.

Grizzly Forge BRCC shirt
Limited Edition: Grizzly Forge Blades on an Awesome BRCC Shirt

Lucas O'Hara of Grizzly Forge has teamed up with BRCC for a badass, exclusive Shirt Club T-shirt design featuring his most popular knife and tiomahawk.

BRCC Limited Edition Josh Raulerson Blackbeard Skull Shirt
From Naval Service to Creative Canvas: BRCC Veteran Artist Josh Raulerson

Coffee or Die sits down with one of the graphic designers behind Black Rifle Coffee's signature look and vibe.

Medal of Honor is held up.
Biden Will Award Medal of Honor to Army Helicopter Pilot Who Rescued Soldiers in Vietnam Firefight

Biden will award the Medal of Honor to a Vietnam War Army helicopter pilot who risked his life to save a reconnaissance team from almost certain death.

dear jack mandaville
Dear Jack: Which Historic Battle Would You Want To Witness?

Ever wonder how much Jack Mandaville would f*ck sh*t up if he went back in time? The American Revolution didn't even see him coming.

west point time capsule
West Point Time Capsule Yields Centuries-Old Coins

A nearly 200-year-old West Point time capsule that at first appeared to yield little more than dust contains hidden treasure, the US Military Academy said.

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
Contact Us
© 2024 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved