In Ukraine’s Retaken Battlefields, Soldiers Recover Bodies

PRUDYANKA, Ukraine (AP) — The 4 troopers lay within the grass, sleeping baggage and cans of meals, some opened, scattered round them. Beneath close by bushes, their automobiles had been smashed and torn by shrapnel. The boys had been useless for months.

This area of rolling fields and woodland close to the Russian border was the location of fierce battles for months through the summer season. Solely now, after Ukrainian forces retook the realm and pushed Russian troops again throughout the border in a blistering counteroffensive, has the retrieval of our bodies scattered throughout the battlefield been potential.

Ukrainian nationwide guard servicemen carry a bag containing the physique of a Ukrainian soldier in an space close to the border with Russia, in Kharkiv area, Ukraine, on Sept. 19, 2022.

Leo Correa through Related Press

The world was of strategic significance as its excessive floor is among the many positions the place Russian artillery may simply strike Kharkiv, Ukraine’s hard-hit second-largest metropolis, stated Col. Vitalii Shum, deputy commander of the third Brigade of Ukraine’s Nationwide Guard, whose group has been accumulating the battlefield useless — each Ukrainian and Russian — for days.

For the troopers’ households, information of the physique restoration will likely be closing, incontrovertible affirmation that their son, brother, father or husband won’t be coming residence.

Even when they’d been notified that their family members died in fight, with out a physique to mourn over a glimmer of hope remained.

“They would be hoping that he was captured, and this is the worst,” Shum stated. As soon as the our bodies’ identities are verified by means of DNA checks, “a difficult and hard procedure will take place,” he added: notifying the household the physique has been discovered, and all hope of their beloved one once more strolling by means of the entrance door is misplaced.

In the course of the retrieval mission on Monday, Shum’s group photographed the location for proof and unpacked physique baggage as troopers checked the environment, and the our bodies themselves, for booby-traps and mines. One of many useless troopers had a hand grenade on him — he by no means had time to make use of it because the Russians closed in.

A Ukrainian serviceman looks for booby traps as he checks the site where a body of a Ukrainian soldier was found inside an armored vehicle in an area near the border with Russia, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on Sept. 19, 2022.
A Ukrainian serviceman appears for booby traps as he checks the location the place a physique of a Ukrainian soldier was discovered inside an armored automobile in an space close to the border with Russia, in Kharkiv area, Ukraine, on Sept. 19, 2022.

Leo Correa through Related Press

After the seek for explosives was completed, a soldier went by means of the pockets of the useless males’s uniforms for id playing cards and private belongings, putting them in plastic baggage earlier than the decomposing our bodies had been lifted into physique baggage.

The duty was carried out matter-of-factly, quietly, gently. The physique baggage had been zipped up, numbered and carried alongside a muddy monitor to a ready truck.

A Ukrainian national guard serviceman stands atop a destroyed Russian tank in an area near the border with Russia, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on Sept. 19, 2022.
A Ukrainian nationwide guard serviceman stands atop a destroyed Russian tank in an space close to the border with Russia, in Kharkiv area, Ukraine, on Sept. 19, 2022.

Leo Correa through Related Press

The battle right here occurred in June, and it was as ferocious because it was bloody. It included close-quarters fight in addition to using tanks and artillery, stated 1st Lt. Mykyta Sydorenko, a 24-year-old commander of an anti-tank unit who participated within the struggle and was now again to assist acquire the stays of his fellow troopers.

In all, the Ukrainians had 4 positions within the space, and had been decided to carry them. The Russian troops attacked and captured 4 Ukrainian troopers, and the Ukrainians launched a rescue bid. An all-day battle ensued, Sydorenko stated. Ukrainian reinforcements got here in, however the Russians simply saved coming.

“They were coming like ants, I just don’t know how to describe it in another way,” he stated.

The losses had been heavy on either side. Sydorenko stated a minimum of 16 Russian troopers had been killed, with the Russians utilizing artillery to maintain the Ukrainians at bay whereas they collected their useless and wounded.

Of the Ukrainians, all six holding one place had been captured, he stated, and all eight holding one other had been wounded. Of the roughly 17 or 18 males at Sydorenko’s place, three had been killed and two had been wounded.

He’s unsure what occurred to the six males holding the fourth place. The world the place the our bodies of the 4 males had been discovered was an evacuation level arrange for the wounded, he stated.

Ultimately, confronted with the Russian onslaught, the surviving Ukrainians, Sydorenko amongst them, had been compelled to retreat by means of a minefield and a swamp.

Returning to the place he misplaced his comrades wasn’t straightforward for the younger officer. It’s “unpleasant, frankly,” he stated. “There are not many good memories from this place.”

Close by, a Russian tank lay burned, its tracks blown off its wheels, a blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag now fluttering atop it. A number of days earlier, Shum’s males discovered the stays of a Russian soldier inside, which they collected and delivered to the Kharkiv morgue.

With the chilly autumn wind swaying the weeds and withered sunflowers rising wild within the fallow fields, Shum and his males continued their search. There was one other Ukrainian soldier’s physique by the facet of the monitor, and close by, the stays of one other who appeared to have been run over by the now-disabled tank.

Additional up a hill, a destroyed armored automobile and a automotive, scattered bins of ammunition and items of apparatus had been testomony to the ferocity of the struggle. Infacet the armored automobile was the physique of one other soldier.

The identical process was repeated, and the physique was lifted by means of the automobile’s damaged window. The soldier lifting the physique’s ft gagged, however waited till his activity was accomplished earlier than heading for the bushes.

In all, Shum and his males collected seven Ukrainian troopers’ our bodies and located the hand of a Russian soldier amongst discarded Russian physique armor and backpacks. All of the stays had been taken to the Kharkiv morgue.

Quickly, the notification of the households will start.