In the back of the Bucha morgue, a large refrigerated truck loaded with bodies still explains today the dimension of the tragedy suffered by this town near kyiv and the work that remains to be done. An operator opens the zippers of the mortuary bags. He peers undaunted into each one. He moves them like packages from one side of the trailer to the other. It is hard for him to imagine that what is inside are people, but he alone has no other way to carry out such a thankless task. He is wearing a cap, but he is not wearing a uniform. Just some rubber gloves. He does not even cover his face with a mask and, from three meters away, the stench is unbearable.
The town of Bucha, on the outskirts of kyiv, now has two cemeteries. One, the graveyard of all life. The one where the dead rest. Many are the more than 400 civilians who, according to the municipal authorities, have lost their lives during the Russian occupation under the shadow of possible war crimes. Some were tortured and killed in cold blood by shooting at close range while their hands were tied, according to initial investigations. The other cemetery is new. It is an esplanade where, along with riddled private vehicles, the remains of the battle tanks and other Army scrap that President Vladimir Putin sent in his attempt to conquer kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, have ended up.
Six weeks after the withdrawal of the Russian troops, Bucha is more concerned with ending the mourning of its neighbors than with the future of the military scrap that accumulates in the town. Parallel to the investigations into the possible crimes committed, citizens exchange information through the Telegram social network that may be of help to them. Sometimes they are macabre and painful photos, but they can end up being the key that opens the door to recover the body of that relative they are still looking for.
Faced with unclosed cases, in the morgue, on the hospital grounds, there is a trickle of families. A large group of scientific agents from the French Gendarmerie leaves the facilities. They are not authorized to give details of their mission. Meanwhile, local police officers with lists and documentation for each case coordinate with citizens who come to identify bodies or have them handed over to them for burial.
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Sasha, 57, smokes a cigarette as she awaits news of her older brother’s remains. Sergei, 63, lived in a country house that was bombed. Barely two kilos of bones and viscera have been found buried along with two other corpses, Sasha says without sparing details. “There is nothing left of his face and head, but I have identified him in the photos by the tattoos on his arm and hand, and the mark of an appendicitis operation,” she adds. Their 85-year-old mother still doesn’t know anything.
At the gates of the facilities stretchers are piling up with the bags, white or black, containing the corpses. Each of them is identified with a number. An employee dressed in a blue uniform and brown apron takes out 373 and places him next to 370 and 372. In a silent parade, a few minutes later he leaves with another. The wind is responsible for spreading the aroma of death while the operator talks with one of the policemen.
Ludmila, 55, in the company of her daughter, is watching over this stretcher dance and helped by a soldier. They have just returned from the Czech Republic, where they took refuge when Bucha was occupied. The woman looks for a number, 346. It is the one that corresponds to her son Danilo, who died at the end of March from a gunshot. He recounts without shedding even a tear that he was buried in a makeshift grave next to his house in Vorzel, on the outskirts of Bucha, and that later, with the departure of the Russians, the body was transferred to the Bila Tservka morgue, south of Bucha. kyiv. This Thursday she was summoned in Bucha to close the process and proceed to the funeral.
After a while, the two of them stand by the open doors of the trailer of the body-laden truck. They carefully follow the noise of zippers and the creak of plastic bags. They exchange a few words with the clerk, who moves familiarly among the dead. The police officer watches the scene from a distance. Meanwhile, a group of people sing accompanied by a guitar around the open coffin of a man who has died of natural causes. They haven’t finished the chords when number 346 appears to be one of the bodies stored in the trailer.
Ludmila and her daughter had prepared themselves and receive the news without fuss or regret. Maximum cold. The bag containing Danilo is lowered into a van and placed in a coffin. The two lean out to acknowledge him when the clerk slides the zipper. In a process of a few seconds, Ludmila affirms slightly bowing her head.
Bucha is a town of about 30,000 residents, about thirty kilometers from the center of kyiv. It became famous for the discovery of numerous bodies in the streets and in houses when the occupying military withdrew at the end of March. The environment was also filled with improvised graves, like the one that took in Danilo, and there are still bodies pending identification and recognition.
Like the corpses of those neighbors, the charred and useless skeletons of the Russian armor lay bombed for weeks in the street of the Bucha station. Today, popularly renamed Avenida de los Tanques looks brand new and clean under the spring sun and amidst the explosive greenery of the vegetation. An older man is prowling around there, scanning the ground with his eyes hunting for remains. It is Ivan Petrovich, a 76-year-old former military pilot, who is the director of the National Museum of the Battle for kyiv, about World War II. The neatness of the street does not seem to motivate him as much as the graveyard of armored vehicles, where he is heading with his team. In addition to the investigations and possible charges against Russia, he believes, in accordance with his work, that memory must also be cared for. So he ponders aloud the possibility of holding an exhibition on the current war as he walks through the dust in front of one of the destroyed enemy tanks, which reads: “Putin, asshole.”
First trial for war crimes against Russian military in Ukraine
The first of the trials on possible war crimes committed by Russian troops during the invasion of Ukraine has had its preliminary hearing this Friday. Soldier Vadim Shyshimarin, 21, arrived with his head bowed, his head shaved and his hands handcuffed behind his back, to a glass cell surrounded by reporters, according to images broadcast by different media outlets. He is accused of shooting a 62-year-old unarmed civilian to death.
The soldier was in the company of four other soldiers of the Russian Army aboard a car that they had stolen. They were trying to regain contact with their tank unit when they saw a man talking on his mobile phone, according to the prosecutor’s report cited by Reuters. The accused received the order to shoot to avoid alerting him to the presence of the Russian soldiers. The events occurred on February 28 in the town of Chupakhivka, in the northeast of the country. The hearing will resume on May 18.
The kyiv government estimates that the investigations may lead to some 10,000 cases of possible war crimes committed during the invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 24. The Moscow authorities deny the accusations and, in cases such as the massacre of civilians committed in Bucha, near kyiv, claim that it is a set-up by the Ukrainians.
Local authorities are also investigating the death of two unarmed men on the outskirts of kyiv, shot by Russian soldiers, according to images made public on Thursday by the CNN and BBC networks.
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