‘We tried to stop him going back to Ukraine’ – friends and family devastated as former Dublin store manager is killed in fighting

Oleksandr Zavhorodniy, known to his friends as Alex, had lived in Ireland for 20 years

Alex (left) with his close friend Janis Neilands

Alex was killed in fighting in the Donbas region on March 30

thumbnail: Oleksandr Zavhorodniy, known to his friends as Alex, had lived in Ireland for 20 years
thumbnail: Alex (left) with his close friend Janis Neilands
thumbnail: Alex was killed in fighting in the Donbas region on March 30
Tony McCullagh

FRIENDS of a Dublin-based Ukrainian man have told of their shock after he was killed when he returned home to join the fight against the Russian invasion.

Oleksandr Zavhorodniy (45), known to his friends as Alex, died on March 30 when the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine came under heavy bombardment.

The separated father-of-two had been in Ireland for more than 20 years and worked at Aldi in Sandyford, where he was deputy manager.

He had been living in rented accommodation in Stillorgan before travelling back to Ukraine last month.

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It’s understood his youngest teenage daughter and former wife managed to escape Ukraine, while his eldest child was not living in the country at the time of the Russian attack.

However, the family will be unable to return to their hometown of Okhtyrka for his funeral, which is expected to take place later this week.

Friends, family and colleagues have been left shattered by news of his death.

Alex Cucuet, a Dublin Bus driver, told Independent.ie he had known Mr Zavhorodniy for eight years and they met up every week.

“I was on a break when I heard he had died and was so shocked that I couldn’t go back to work,” he said. “I was concerned when he told me he was going to Ukraine and a few of us tried to stop him.

“He told us he couldn’t just stay here and wait for everything to be finished. He was really proud of the Ukrainian army and had done military service when he was younger.”

Another close friend, Janis Neilands, believes Mr Zavhorodniy was serving as a sniper for the army at the time of his death.

“We came to Ireland at the same time and have been friends since then,” he said. “Alex was always having fun and joking around, even when we were in touch with him during the war. We are all absolutely devastated.”

Mr Neilands is involved in a fundraising campaign to help pay for his friend’s funeral costs in Ukraine.

“We don’t want him to be buried in a mass grave,” he said. “Any money left over will go directly to his two daughters.”

Aldi’s Parnell Street store manager Anton Burihhin, who worked with Mr Zavhorodniy at the Sandyford branch, said his colleagues cried and found it difficult to work when they learned of his death.

“I offered Alex a job seven years ago when I was assistant manager at Sandyford,” he said. “He was very responsible and such an outstanding worker.

“Alex had a very open heart and was a real people person – he worked and lived for his family. He had a huge network of friends and words can’t describe how devastating this news has been.

“People he worked with in Aldi all hope the warehouse door will open and Alex will walk out with a smile, as he always did. All of us refuse to accept the fact he is no longer with us,” he added.

Donald Mackay, regional managing director of Aldi Ireland, said: “Oleksandr, known to his colleagues as ‘Alex’, was a valued and much-loved member of the Aldi team for over eight years. He was a great asset to the company and will be greatly missed.

“We are all shocked by this news and our thoughts are with Oleksandr’s family and friends at this very difficult time.

“Aldi has made counselling services available to all colleagues impacted by this terrible news and will be offering supports to Oleksandr’s immediate family.”

Donations can be made to the fundraising page here