Ukrainian 'boy on the bridge' turned army cook dreams of becoming professional chef

8 months ago 4

We'd been worrying about Serhiy Petrushenko, a 21-year-old boy we met guarding a bridge in central Kyiv completely on his own on the second day of the war.

He became an overnight sensation after our report, the interview was watched well over 50 million times on social media alone.

When we spoke to him his fear was honest, visceral and compelling, and his concern for his family - whose village was already surrounded by Russian soldiers - was so vivid, even on film.

We've been thinking about him ever since.

Like so many people at the time, Serhiy thought that the Russians were coming, and he was going to die.

Within hours of our broadcast Sky News was inundated with people asking for more information.

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And those messages of concern for the boy on the bridge, as we know him, continue today. So we asked the Ukrainian military if they could confirm he was alive and help us find him.

It took them over two months to track him down. To be fair, it's a tough ask in the chaos of war, but they did at least confirm he was alive.

This week I met Serhiy again, he's working as an army cook. We shook hands and later hugged.

Stuart Ramsay and Serhiy Petrushenko

To this day he can't really believe how he has become so well known, how hundreds of people still write to him every day, and how he has invitations to visit them after the war… from Finland to Hawaii.

"Hundreds of people, hundreds of people on social media text me every day. Every day they ask me about my family, how I am doing," he told me.

"I tried to reply to all the messages individually but in the end I just couldn't."

We met in a field kitchen next to the woods in the Kyiv region as he was preparing lunch for soldiers training for battle.

"The first time we met, I was not cooking at that time, but a few months ago, I came to where I belong, to the kitchen. And, for months I've been cooking for my soldiers in many places."

It's an unheralded job but incredibly important - soldiers can't fight if they are hungry.

Serhiy Petrushenko

Serhiy Petrushenko

It's also inspired him to dream. After the war Serhiy wants to travel to Italy, sample the cuisine, and maybe even train to be a professional chef.

He says he has grown up quickly over the last 12 months. "I feel older, and I look older since you met me," he said smiling and laughing.

We met at the start of the war by chance, to be honest.

On a whim we decided to film the many bridges that cross into the heart of Kyiv, and the pedestrian bridge we spotted as we drove by was perfect.

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Sky News' Stuart Ramsay meets Serhiy Petrushenko a year after he found him guarding a bridge in Kyiv

With his rifle in his arms, Serhiy walked towards us to ask us what we were doing. We explained and he said we could film but that he had to stay and watch us.

He was a nice kid, and as we finished filming, I asked without any expectation of agreement if we could interview him.

We didn't speak for long, but his story resonated with people around the world.

He seemed somewhat bemused as to what use he could actually be as he had only fired 16 rounds in his life.

That number is now between 50 and 60, he says. But he prefers cooking.

Serhiy's home village in the Sumy region was liberated by the Ukrainian forces after being taken by Russia, and he says his parents and grandparents are all well.

Serhiy Petrushenko speaking to his mother

Image: Serhiy Petrushenko speaking to his mother Lyudmyla Petrushenko

"I'm lucky that my family's fine. My relatives, my friends, they are fine. But when they occupied my village, some people got hurt, some people were killed."

Like many here, he is convinced Ukraine will win.

"People are very determined to defend the country… we will eventually push them [Russia] back to their borders, maybe even forward. Yeah, they will not win."

Words from Serhiy Petrushenko's mother - Lyudmyla Petrushenko

Unfortunately, not everyone in Ukraine can watch Sky News, but my son's story was published on Facebook and people were saying to me 'Oh, that's your Serhiy all over the Internet!'

Like me, they were worried that he was there alone on watch.

We were worried then, and we still worry now because these days a rocket can land anywhere.

When I hear stories about strikes, I start crying out of worry for my son.

When we were under occupation at the start of the war it was terrifying. We live very close to the border, and I understood that at 4am the war started.

At 8am I went to the shop I was working at, and I saw a lot of Russian military vehicles on the road. It was so loud, and we were so scared. Tanks and armoured personnel carriers – we couldn't believe our eyes.

We stay in touch with our son all the time because we worry, and of course he worries about us too.

I miss him so much. You can't even imagine how much.

In truth I never thought Serhiy was really cut out for fighting and frankly, nor did he.

But he's not scared anymore and says he will keep feeding "his boys", as he calls the soldiers.

The boy on the bridge is a man now.

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