In Bucha, officials count the dead and the unidentified


Workers in protective gear exhume the bodies of civilians found in a mass grave behind Saint Andrews Church in Bucha, Ukraine on April 13.  (Heidi Levine for the Washington Post)
Workers in protective gear exhume the bodies of civilians found in a mass grave behind Saint Andrews Church in Bucha, Ukraine on April 13. (Heidi Levine for the Washington Post)

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BUCHA, Ukraine — After months of meticulous, painful and at times gruesome investigation, Bucha officials said on Monday they had reached what may be the closest to a final count of the victims of the deadly rampage of Russian troops. which have been unleashed all over the world. outrage over alleged atrocities: 458 bodies, 419 of which bore marks indicating they had been shot, tortured or bludgeoned to death.

Mykhailyna Skoryk-Shkarivska, the city’s deputy mayor, recounted the grim tally at a press conference on Monday, where she said details of each case were currently being investigated by prosecutors. who were trying to identify the perpetrators and try them for war crimes.

Of the victims, 39 appeared to have died of natural causes, Skoryk-Shkarivska said, but these could be related to the war or Russian treatment of the civilian population during their month-long occupation, which ended ended in a hasty retreat. defeat on April 1.

Even those 39 cases are now being investigated by war crimes investigators. They include a seemingly healthy 34-year-old mother who died of a heart attack while sheltering from shelling in a basement with her three young children, who remained trapped alongside their deceased mother for days, and an elderly woman living alone with her deceased sister. shortly after his sister was shot by Russian troops – deaths that could hardly be considered natural.

The fact that it took more than four months to account for 32 days of killings underscores the horrific circumstances faced by officials when Russian troops departed. Bodies were strewn unattended in the streets, piled up in wells or abandoned deep in the forest. Electricity and internet service had been cut, meaning the first documented evidence had to be handwritten, Skoryk-Shkarivska said.

Identification of all the bodies proved impossible. Some 50 corpses remain unidentified or unclaimed by relatives, Skoryk-Shkarivska said, adding that city officials have decided to announce their findings nonetheless because the final tally and full identities will likely never be known. In the past two weeks alone, two more bodies have been discovered, in a forest and a storm drain, and 10 residents have reported missing relatives who cannot be accounted for.

The final figure also includes a bag of body parts. The remains were too fragmented, decomposed or badly mutilated to identify, but apparently belonged to multiple people, Skoryk-Shkarivska said, possibly including Russian soldiers. Among the exhibits are two straight guns that investigators say they have reason to suspect belong to Russians.

Russian troops left the corpses of many of those they killed to rot unattended, but also burned some, perhaps for hygiene reasons or to hide evidence of torture, the deputy mayor said. Some of the remains consisted of piles of ash beyond identification even using DNA analysis.

Almost all of the bodies included in Monday’s tally are known to be civilians, Skoryk-Shkarivska said. The bodies of Ukrainian soldiers killed in Bucha were handed over to Ukrainian authorities and counted separately, while three Russian bodies were sent for repatriation.

A total of 366 bodies were male and 86 female, while five had deteriorated too much to be determined. Nine were children under the age of 18.

A body in the woods hints at the horror in Bucha

The raw numbers offer only a glimpse of the horrors inflicted on the small number of people who remained after the Russians overran Kyiv’s suburbs on February 27, intending to reach the capital 20 miles away. Instead, they found their advance blunted by fierce Ukrainian resistance.

Most of the town’s approximately 39,000 residents escaped before the Russians arrived, but some 4,000 remained – one in 10 of whom died in just over a month.

If such figures are repeated in only a fraction of the towns and villages currently under Russian occupation – representing 20% ​​of Ukrainian territory – the scale of the atrocities committed by Russian troops could be vast.

Bucha, however, experienced by far some of the worst violence among the dozens of towns and settlements briefly occupied by Russian troops in the Kyiv region, accounting for a third of the estimated total of 1,300 casualties.

Many of those who remained in Bucha when the Russians invaded were elderly, refusing to flee because they were too frail, sick or stubborn to leave their homes, said Father Andriy Halavin, the church priest from the city.

He helped bury 116 people killed in the first two weeks of the Russian occupation in a mass grave dug by locals in the courtyard of his church and recognized some of his worshippers. But others may have relatives who live far away and were unable to provide DNA samples to help investigators.

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Records compiled by investigators indicate that many of the unidentified people were also elderly, said Eugène Spirin, one of the volunteers who helped collect and identify the dead. He shared a list documenting some of those who proved the hardest to identify, along with brief descriptions of what investigators were able to establish who they were.

There is the man, in his sixties, shot in the eye, his face barely recognizable. and another aged 75 to 85 with stubby gray hair who was shot in the back of the neck. An elderly woman’s head was so badly shattered that she could not be recognized. Investigators estimated she was between 75 and 85 years old, according to records.

Skoryk-Shkarivska said efforts to identify those victims would continue. The city is determined to put a name to each of those who died and commemorate them with a monument. But if definitive answers don’t arrive soon, the city said it plans to hold funeral services for the last remaining victims who died alone and without a name.

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