Anatoliy Solodyankin tearfully remembered his son, Vyacheslav, during a memorial service in Spokane on Saturday night.
Vyacheslav was not afraid to give his own life trying to save his family, Solodyankin told the more than 200 people who gathered to remember six Russian refugees who died in a Bellingham fire Friday.
The Light of the Gospel Church in Spokane’s West Central neighborhood was packed to standing-room only. One family friend sobbed as he pleaded with God to explain why the Solodyankins were taken so early in their lives.
“You have to know how we loved them,” the man said in Russian as tears streamed down the faces of people in the crowd. Photographs of the family were propped up between bouquets of red roses at the front of the church.
Five members of the Solodyankin family, who had been in Spokane for less than a year after fleeing their native country, died in the house fire, which started when a spark from the fireplace ignited a nearby couch while the family slept.
They had been visiting relatives.
Dead are Vyacheslav Solodyankin, 36, and wife Yelena, 35, Valeria, 14, Vyacheslav Jr., 6 and Alina, 1.
Daughter Olena, 12, and son Ivan, 4, were treated for smoke inhalation and minor burns and released from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bellingham.
“They went on spring break,” Nadya Solodyankin, 15, of Spokane, said of her aunt and uncle. “They wanted to take their children and go visit his brother. They left three children with us because they don’t have much room in their car. They went just for one night.”
It is not clear who will have custody of the two children who survived the fire and three other siblings who did not travel to Bellingham. The children are staying with relatives.
Surviving the fire were Vyacheslav Solodyankin’s brother, Sergey and his wife, Olga. Both were listed in satisfactory condition at St. Joseph’s. That couple’s daughter, Nadia, 8, also died in the fire.
Sergey and Olga Solodyankin’s four other children, Oleg, 10, Tatyana, 12, Sergey Jr., 15 and Alex, 16, were treated at St. Joseph’s and released.
Donations for the five remaining Solodyankin children in Spokane are being collected at all U.S. Bank branches.