"Love still seen in such chaos": In Memoriam of Danish Paramedic Oscar

December 21, 2023
Honoring the courageous paramedic from Denmark who died serving Ukraine.

Oscar Alexander Koksvik Johansson was an experienced paramedic who assisted Ukrainian people during the full-scale war until his last days. He felt a profound connection to Ukraine and passed away on its soil, fulfilling, in his words, his duty.

Amidst the chaos of the war's initial days, with queues of people fleeing and returning to Ukraine, Oscar arrived here. It was March 2022, and this was his first experience in a war zone.

Oleksandra, a Ukrainian living in Denmark for an extended period, became his helping hand on his way to the hotspot. In time, she would become the one Oscar would share very personal things with.

"Back then, I started a medical supply hub for Ukraine and my phone number was easy to find. Oscar called me in early March. I didn't know him. He said that he and some other volunteers would travel to Ukraine by car. As I understood it from his words, the other ones got scared to go, so Oscar asked if I knew someone who could take him into Ukraine."

While in Ukraine, Oscar looked not good as recounted by Olha from Ternopil. Her family was the first he met there. He got ill and, as Olha's husband found out, had nowhere to stay in Ukraine.

"I remember my husband calling, saying, 'I will not come back home alone today. I met a very good person who needs to rest somewhere, to be warmed up and sheltered.' That day, the husband went to register for military service, and there they met. In the evening, we talked a lot, sitting in our kitchen, and Oscar drank tea with lemon. I was amazed by him. The person with an absolutely different mentality, from a peaceful country, came to us to help regain our freedom and save our people."

Oleksandra, who knew him much closer, was well aware that people were really all that mattered to Oscar.First, she noticed that in his way of thinking when they talked on the phone, and very soon he proved it by actions, many, many times over.

I always wondered about his motives for coming to Ukraine. When we talked about it, he created this special feeling that, you know, we are all people, and that is reason enough.

This selfless commitment to people that lay deep in the core of Oscar's personality was witnessed by various people at different times, by both Ukrainians and Danes. And it will always be a virtue that Oscar's Godfather Daniel will associate with him.

"The word that comes to mind is 'dedication'. He was very dedicated to helping others. Everybody who knew him has confirmed this. An absolute dedication to helping others," Daniel shares.

Besides being guided by empathy, Oscar had an objective reason to come to Ukraine during this challenging period. As a paramedic, he hoped to use his knowledge and share his expertise with those who were new to the emerging reality.

"Oscar knew that there, on the frontlines, were many people unfamiliar with the work of a paramedic, lacking the skills. He felt he had something valuable to contribute," Oleksandra recalls his words.

But Oscar's deeds went far beyond being a paramedic. He not only evacuated the wounded but also assisted families in escaping dangerous regions, providing essential supplies, including food, and so much more. 

Throughout this time, he was accompanied by the enormous gratitude that kept him fueled and bound him even closer to Ukraine.

"He said that there, in Ukraine, he met a lot of grateful people, and, of course, he couldn't just leave them. As Oscar also put it, he wouldn't ever find it in cold Denmark."

Guided by his unique fortune, he saw what others didn't. Beauty and God---essences so distant from any place in the world where war ravages---were discovered by Oscar's soul in Ukraine.

"I remember how he sent me a photo taken in Lysychansk. It was spring, and in the picture, there was a completely ruined area behind him. This is a place where battles took place. Yet, amidst the devastation, he found tulips. Wearing a bulletproof vest, he held these tulips in his hands and even tucked some into his vest. He told me, 'Oleksandra, there is something beautiful here despite everything.' "Love still seen in such chaos," he messaged me. I still have that message."

And if beauty was merely a distraction from the horrific things Oscar witnessed in the war-torn country, God, he believed, saved his life numerous times. Indeed he felt God's presence for him when he seemed to abandon others.

"There was this story... We handed over one car to Oscar. One day, he sent me a photo of this car all broken. His comrade, with whom he worked, died in it. It was an American who came to Ukraine with his wife. Initially, Oscar was supposed to be in this car, but they switched with him at the last moment, because Oscar had to pick up someone from the station. It was all purely accidental. And I remember he told me later, 'Imagine, it was supposed to be me, but he's the one who left. It should have been me.'

This wasn't the only moment. Occasionally, he called Oleksandra and told her how surprising it was that he could survive, so heavy was the shelling. The surprise, however, was coupled with a firm belief in a larger mission that he hadn't yet completed. Must be the reason to let him live longer.

In part, that also demonstrated how Oscar trusted this power from high above, always acting according to his faith.

"I believe that meant everything to him. We, the priests here in the church, decided to baptism him quickly because we knew of his plans to go to Ukraine, and we wanted to make sure that if he were killed in Ukraine, he would die as a child of God, with the possibility of joining the heavenly life," Daniel says .

Oscar came to Daniel in his search for God not long before his departure to Ukraine. After Daniel had become his Godfather, Oscar left for Ukraine.

What amazes Oleksandra still is that Oscar never took advantage of his opportunity to return to Denmark and resume his peaceful living. After all, he wasn't bound by any contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

"As far as I know, Oscar did not receive any money. Once, my daughter, who's a musician, collected some money from her music and sent it to him. He was so touched."

Oleksandra's daughter isn't the only young soul connected to Oscar. Two daughters of Olha from Ternopil keep him in their hearts still. 

"Every day, my children asked me when Oscar would come to visit us. Knowing how much they loved him, I kept his death a secret from them for some time. I was terrified to tell them because I knew it would break their small hearts. They had prepared many handmade surprises for him, various postcards, and so on. Unfortunately, they never had the chance to present them to him. Once, I finally mustered up the courage and told them. We cried about it together back then, a lot. However, grieving is a difficult continuous process."

Oleksandra never met Oskar in real life, which is ironic considering how close they were. It appears that sometimes people don't have to meet to understand each other so well. Nevertheless, they had plans to do so.

"We agreed that when he comes to Denmark, we will gather at my place and have a barbecue together. We also planned to celebrate the victory together. In fact, we always tried to cross paths, but when he came to Denmark, I went to Ukraine and vice versa. Somehow, it did not work out under different strange circumstances." Being at the front made Oscar closer to Ukrainian people, and at the same time, Daniel says, made it hard to stay in contact for them.

"We spoke for the last time about a month before his death. I was trying to get him back home from the front in order to rest a bit and see his family. That never happened."

Oscar, too, felt he needed to rest. He just couldn't stop helping people who were in a far worse state.

He told me that he felt good mentally, but he saw that he probably needed a few days off because his body was losing weight. There were times when they worked around the clock, rescuing soldiers on or off the battlefield. So he recognized that his body was stressed, but he felt good on the inside. He didn't experience mental fatigue because he understood what he was doing and how important it was.

Obviously, Oscar's presence in Ukraine was not limited to performing direct paramedical tasks. It was much more. His history in Ukraine was significant and fulfilling. Oskar brought smiles to people's faces. He cared for others and, in turn, was cared for by many who crossed paths with him. The love he felt in Ukraine was mutual.

And the most important thing is how Ukrainians remember Oscar, in all his brightness. Everybody who'd met him shares such memories of him that immediately paint the atmosphere in Oscar's colors. Those people were lucky enough to meet him on their path. And luckily for us, they didn't waste their chance to delve into his outstanding personality.

Lisa Dzhulai
Journalist at UkraineWorld