Soe called her boyfriend at around 8:07 am on Sunday morning before he was preparing to join the protests in Yangon, Myanmar, against the military government that took power after a coup in early February.
“I told him to be careful about everything. He told me not to worry,” Soe, a 22-year-old student from the University of West Yangon, told Sputnik.
Less than 1.5 hours after the call with her boyfriend, Soe heard that gunshots were fired during the protests in the city and she called her boyfriend at once to check if he was safe.
She called four times from 9:22 am in the span of 20 minutes, but couldn’t get hold of him. When someone finally picked up her call, the person who answered the phone was not her boyfriend.
“Just before the news broke, I called him and someone else picked up the phone and told me about his condition,” Soe said.
Her boyfriend was Nyi Nyi Aung Htet Naing, 23, who was shot in the chest during the protests on Sunday and died later of his injuries.
Aung Htet Naing was among the 18 protesters who were reportedly killed during the violent protests against the military after it overthrew the government and declared a year-long state of emergency. Police officers reportedly used live ammunition to disperse the protesters.
Despite the tragic death of young protesters like Aung Htet Naing, the Myanmar police continued to use force against the demonstrators during the protests this week. At least nine protesters were killed in three cities in Myanmar on Wednesday amid the protests, local media the Irrawaddy reported.
BRIGHT FUTURE DISRUPTED
Soe and Aung Htet Naing started dating when they were still both high school students in 2015.
“We first met him in 2015 when we were high school students. We have been together for 5 years and 10 months. I met him when I was 16 years old. He is 17 years old,” Soe said.
The young couple’s social media posts were filled with their favorite memories together.
Aung Htet Naing shared a picture of the young couple getting a matching “love charm” bracelet together in March 2016. “Love is in the air,” the caption on the picture said.
In March last year, Aung Htet Naing described as feeling “lovely” and “crazy” in two pictures with his girlfriend Soe, who looked to be actively debating something with him.
Soe said her boyfriend was supposed to graduate from the University of West Yangon last year, but his graduation was delayed because of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Instead, he took a job to become a network engineer as he started to take networking courses in 10th grade.
Aung Htet Naing planned to introduce Soe to his parents after graduation and they planned to get married at the age of 25.
“We had many plans for the future, but we did not expect to be separated,” Soe said.
The young couple’s relationship grew during a period of relative calm in Myanmar after Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide victory during the 2015 elections and took office as State Counsellor in April 2016.
Similar to young people in the rest of the world, Aung Htet Naing’s Facebook posts were mostly about video games, while Soe mostly focused on makeup products and dolls.
On January 25, seven days before the military coup took place, Soe started a small business online by selling colorful pajamas on Facebook.
But the military coup on February 1 turned the young couple’s life upside down. Similar to most of the younger generation in Myanmar, both Aung Htet Naing and Soe were strong supporters of the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and wanted to protect democracy in their country.
They both began to share posts in support of the protests against the military coup and Aung Htet Naing decided to join the protests and stay on the frontline.
NEVER GIVE UP
Nyi Thurain Moe, a 29-year-old package operator at an international beer company in Myanmar, were protesting with Aung Htet Naing on Sunday morning when the sounds of gunshots forced them to run and hide.
“We tried to run and hide when we heard the gunshots. But there was not enough time,” Moe told Sputnik.
While Moe was lucky enough to dodge the bullets, Aung Htet Naing was hit in the chest.
According to video footage of the scene widely circulated on Facebook, Aung Htet Naing was seen lying in front of a metal gate, bleeding heavily from his lower chest. When fellow protesters tried to offer him assistance, more shots were fired and sent everyone fleeing to take cover.
About 20 seconds later, a group of protesters were finally able to carry the injured Aung Htet Naing away.
According to an interview with the Irrawaddy, Aung Htet Naing’s twin brother Ko Ko said he had already died when an ambulance took him to the Yangon General Hospital.
Aung Htet Naing’s funeral was held on Tuesday when thousands of supporters came to pay tribute to the young student who lost his life too early.
Moe, the fellow protester, said Aung Htet Naing’s death did not discourage him and he would not stop protesting.
“Please help the Myanmar people. We want justice and we need justice! We will continue to go out and protest because we can’t give up justice. We will never give up after a loss [of life],” he said.
As Soe was still struggling to cope with the death of Aung Htet Naing, she felt regretful that she didn’t have a chance to fight alongside her boyfriend.
“For various reasons, we have not had the opportunity to fight together for democracy,” she said.
But she expressed determination to defend democracy in Myanmar to honor the memory of the love of her life.