The last photo of Sasha Zdanovych showed him blowing out the candles on his birthday cake.
A week later the 4-year-old was dead, another young victim of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The boy disappeared on a boat that capsized as he desperately tried to escape the massacre across a 6-mile-wide reservoir on the Dnieper, The Sun reported.
“There was no other way to escape then – the Russian army blocked all the roads,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who said during his virtual trip around the world on April 7. “They shot at people on the streets. So the adults tried to escape them through the river.
His heartbroken mother, Anna Yakhno, spent 26 days unaware of what happened to her son before his body was found.
“The world must never forget Sasha’s name or the man in charge,” Yakhno, 25, told The Sun.
Sasha was staying with her grandmother Zoya, 59, in a town 30 miles north of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv when Russian troops invaded on February 24. The city was cut off, and Zoya and Sasha huddled with neighbors so as not to be alone without heating, electricity or running water.
“He was scared,” Yakhno said. “He was waiting for us and he was like, ‘When is this going to end?'”
But he was also happy about his fourth birthday, March 4th.
Five days later, Sasha spoke to Yakhno for the last time. “He said, ‘Mom, don’t worry. I’ll drive to your place when filming stops,” she recalled.
Zoya and Sasha were walking to a pier with neighbors when bombs exploded all around them. Yakhno knew it was the last resort since Zoya couldn’t swim and was always afraid of water.
When she didn’t hear from them the next day, she was horrified. She was in another city and called Sasha’s father, who ran to the tank. There he learned that two boats had left, but only one had reached the other shore.
Zelenskyi said witnesses reported seeing the boat capsize after Russian shelling.
The boat was found washed ashore about three miles downriver a few days later, with the body of an adult who had visited Zoya’s neighbor below, and Zoya’s body nearby.
Days passed and the bodies of the other passengers were found, but not Sasha’s, leaving her mother clinging to the hope that someone had found and taken the boy.
“I waited day after day,” Yakhno said. “I had so many messages. I just read the news from morning to night. Lots of posts from different people.
They contained photos of another lost child. “But it wasn’t Sascha. So my hope lived. I believed until the last day.
The bodies of other adults who were on board were found over the following days. Then, on April 5, Yakhno received an early-morning phone call. Sasha’s body was found.
They buried him next to his grandmother. A total of eight people died when the boat capsized.
“Russia killed them. If they hadn’t occupied our territory, this wouldn’t have happened. I just want it to stop,” Yakhno said.
The grieving mum said her son was “the kindest kid in the world” and “loved everyone”.
“If you had a chance to play with him or communicate with him and if he thought you were nice, he would say, ‘I love you,'” she said. “He said ‘I love you’ to everyone he loves.”
She said the world must never forget the terror and pain Russia has brought upon her country. and promised to try Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes.
“I want the world to remember Sasha and remember who did this to her. It was Russia. It was Putin. I don’t know how to shoot a gun, but I can tell people the truth about this terrible war.
“He will sit in The Hague and see me there,” she said.
“His army came here and did this. They are also responsible,” Yakhno added. “You will pay for it. You will pay for all Ukrainians.