On the recaptured battlefields of Ukraine, soldiers stow bodies


PRUDYANKA, Ukraine (TAUT) — The four soldiers lay in the grass, sleeping bags and cans of food, some open, scattered around them. Under nearby trees, their cars were wrecked and mauled by shrapnel. The men had been dead for months.

This area of ​​rolling fields and forests near the Russian border was the scene of fierce fighting for months during the summer. Only now, after Ukrainian forces recaptured the area and pushed Russian forces back across the border in a blistering counter-offensive, has it been possible to recover the bodies scattered across the battlefield.

The area was of strategic importance because the high terrain is one of the positions where Russian artillery could easily attack Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city hard hit, said Colonel Vitalii Shum, deputy commander of the National Guard’s 3rd Brigade. of Ukraine, whose team has been collecting the dead on the battlefield for days – both Ukrainian and Russian.

For the soldiers’ families, the news of the body’s recovery will be the final, irrefutable confirmation that their son, brother, father or husband will not be coming home.

Even when they learned that their loved ones had died in battle, there was a glimmer of hope without a body to mourn.

“They would hope he was captured, and this is the worst,” Shum said. Once the identities of the bodies have been verified through TAUT testing, “a difficult and harsh procedure will take place,” he added: informing the family that the body has been found, and all hope that their loved one will return. walks through the front door is lost.

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During Monday’s salvage mission, Shum’s team photographed the site for evidence and unpacked body bags as soldiers checked the area, and the bodies themselves, for booby traps and mines. One of the dead soldiers had a hand grenade with him – he never had time to use it because the Russians were coming at him.

After the search for explosives ended, a soldier searched the pockets of the dead men’s uniforms for ID cards and personal effects and placed them in plastic bags before lifting the decomposing bodies into body bags.

The task was carried out matter-of-factly, quietly and carefully. The body bags were zipped up, numbered and carried over a muddy track to a waiting truck.

The battle here took place in June and was as fierce as it was bloody. It involved close combat and the use of tanks and artillery, said 1st Lt. Mykyta Sydorenko, a 24-year-old commander of an anti-tank unit who took part in the battle and was now back to help collect the remains. of his fellow soldiers.

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In total, the Ukrainians had four positions in the area and were determined to keep them. Russian troops attacked and captured four Ukrainian soldiers, and the Ukrainians launched a rescue bid. A whole day of fighting ensued, Sydorenko said. Ukrainian reinforcements came in, but the Russians kept coming.

“They came like ants, I just don’t know how to describe it any other way,” he said.

Losses were great on both sides. Sydorenko said at least 16 Russian soldiers were killed, with the Russians using artillery to keep the Ukrainians at bay as they gathered their dead and wounded.

Of the Ukrainians, all six were captured in one position, he said, and all eight were injured in another. Of the approximately 17 or 18 men in Sydorenko’s position, three were killed and two wounded.

He’s not sure what happened to the six men in fourth place. The area where the bodies of the four men were found was an evacuation point for the injured, he said.

In the end, the surviving Ukrainians, including Sydorenko, were faced with the Russian attack, forced to retreat through a minefield and swamp.

Returning to the place where he lost his comrades was not easy for the young officer. It’s “unpleasant, frankly,” he said. “There are not many fond memories of this place.”

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Nearby, a Russian tank was on fire, tracks had blown off its wheels and a blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag was now flying on top. A few days earlier, Shum’s men found the remains of a Russian soldier inside, which they collected and delivered to the Kharkiv morgue.

With the chilly autumn wind whipping the weeds and withered sunflowers growing wild in the fallow fields, Shum and his men continued their search. There was the body of another Ukrainian soldier by the side of the track, and nearby, the remains of another who appeared to have been run over by the now-deactivated tank.

Further up a hill, a destroyed armored vehicle and car, scattered boxes of ammunition and equipment testified to the ferocity of the battle. Inside the armored vehicle was the body of another soldier.

The same procedure was repeated and the body was lifted from the vehicle through the broken window. The soldier lifted the feet from the body, gagged, but waited for his task to be completed before going to the bushes.

In all, Shum and his men collected the bodies of seven Ukrainian soldiers and found the hand of a Russian soldier among discarded Russian body armor and backpacks. All the remains were taken to the Kharkiv morgue.

Soon the reporting of the families will start.


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