‘We don’t judge’: Ukrainian forces recover slain Russian soldiers

After combing through the forests and grasslands of western Kyiv, a Ukrainian special unit finally stumbles upon what they were looking for: the body of a Russian soldier.

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For several weeks, teams have been working together with a civil-military cooperation unit to extract Russian corpses from fields, forests and destroyed buildings on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital.

“If the Russians don’t do what they were supposed to do out of honor, then we will do it out of respect for the dead,” a soldier with the nom de guerre “Mukhomor” told AFP, moments after digging up the body of a Moscow soldier.

“It doesn’t matter if he’s the enemy or not, we don’t judge. These are the rules of international humanitarian law,” he adds.

The Kyiv suburbs saw weeks of heavy fighting in March after the Russian invasion on February 24, where the Kremlin army met resistance from Ukrainian forces.

Then at the end of March, the Russians withdrew, regrouping their troops on the other side of the border at a time when Ukraine accused Moscow of having committed “massacres” of civilians in several localities in the suburbs of the capital city.

To date, more than 200 bodies of Russian servicemen have been recovered, the vast majority having been found in the outskirts of Kyiv.

In the village of Zavalivka, 60 km west of Kyiv, a forensic team cordons off the area around a shallow grave.

AFP is present there, accompanied by one of these research teams, as part of a press trip organized by the Ukrainian army.

Locals claim the Russian fighter had been injured and was begging for water before being killed by his own troops ahead of the Russian retreat.

AFP could not independently verify these statements.

“He was left near the store. And then our guys buried him,” Katerina Karobtchouk, a 79-year-old resident of Zavalivka, told AFP.

After Ukrainian forces entered the village, the body was hastily buried in the forest as they cleared the area during a mine clearance operation.

Mrs. Karobtchouk assures that the corpse was discovered a little later by her dog.

Already decomposing, the body’s legs, frozen, seemed to curl up under his torso.

“Be careful, we don’t want to miss anything or damage anything,” said a member of the five-person team dressed in coveralls, after finding the exact location of the body.

After the grave was thoroughly cleared, the team inspected the remains of the body, hanging a white band around the corpse’s right arm to show its membership in the Russian military.

Once the bodies are put in body bags, they are then stacked in refrigerated wagons.

The location of the mobile morgues remains a closely guarded Kyiv secret, with Ukrainians fearing a Russian airstrike against what they say is growing evidence of Moscow’s “war crimes”.

“They have a beautiful fairy tale that says they don’t leave their dead soldiers behind…well, it really is a fairy tale!”, jokes Colonel Volodymyr Lyamzin.

According to him, Moscow has shown no desire to facilitate the return of its dead, despite the efforts of the Ukrainian authorities.

“They will be stored in our mobile refrigerated wagons for as long as needed,” said Lyamzine, who oversees recovery operations.

“If Russia does not take them away, after a while our government will pass a resolution and these bodies will be buried here in Ukraine,” he continues.

“Those we can identify will be buried under their own name. Those who are not will be buried as unknown soldiers.”


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