A hairdresser who left Ukraine after suffering a homophobic attack before returning to fight the Russians has died in combat.
Although Vitaly Pokhila, 42, known as ‘El Espanol’ (‘The Spaniard’), moved to Spain to escape what was he then described as his homeland´s homophobia he returned to help save it after the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion last year.
Spanish and Ukrainian media have now reported that Vitaly died in combat a few days ago in a battle in Vuhledar, a hotly contested town in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.
Both he and his partner left the country after they were attacked by six unknown men in Dnipro in a homophobic attack.
To add insult to injury, hospital workers reportedly refused to treat Vitaly and his partner because of their sexual orientation.
So Vitaly left and moved to Spain, where he married his partner, Denis Shitikov, and opened a barbershop.
But after the full-scale Russian invasion, Vitaly returned to Ukraine to fight the invaders, taking up the alias ‘El Espanol’ in the Ukrainian army.
Vitaliy Pokhila, call sign "Испанец" (Spaniard) died near Vuhledar some days ago. He lived for almost nine years in Spain and owned a barbershop there. He chose to leave his comfortable life and came to Ukraine to fight ruzZians. He was 42 yo.
Descansa en paz, héroe. 🇪🇦 🇺🇦#lviv pic.twitter.com/qT7DtP51bB
— TheLvivJournal (@LvivJournal) February 15, 2023
He reportedly died a few days ago in Vuhledar, where the Russian forces are reportedly dying in droves as they desperately try to take the town but where they are faced with strong resistance from the Ukrainian side.
The Lviv Journal first broke the news about his death, saying in English: “Vitaliy Pokhila, call sign ‘Испанец’ (Spaniard) died near Vuhledar some days ago. He lived for almost nine years in Spain and owned a barbershop there. He chose to leave his comfortable life and came to Ukraine to fight ruzZians. He was 42 yo.” (sic)
The paper added in Spanish “Descansa en paz, héroe” (sic), which means, ‘Rest in Peace, hero.’
Tributes have been pouring in on social media, with ‘Richard Ingham Evans’ saying on Twitter: “So Vitaliy Pokhila was a hero. Gave up comfortable life in Spain to fight, and die, for his country. He will always be a hero & there is nothing Putin can do about it. And Putin is a monster. Nothing to be done about that, either. Reflect on that, Russians, please.”
And ‘n8andersn’ said: “What an incredible human being, the absolute best of us. The beauty of a person like Vitaliy is that I’m sure he impacted many people very deeply. His example will drive many more heroes, may it be some of those that read his story.”
While ‘BannonsMole’ said: “Hero for Ukraine and all the civilized world.”
Many others simply said “Rest in peace” and “RIP”.