Ukraine war: Bodies of dead Russian soldiers abandoned near Kyiv


When their dogs started digging insistently at a spot in the woods, villagers in Zavalivka called in the authorities.

A Ukrainian military team soon arrived at the scene in white protective suits, carefully removing the topsoil.

They uncovered a man’s body, face down with his legs oddly twisted beneath him. It was clear from his uniform that he was a Russian soldier.

Weeks after they failed to seize Ukraine’s capital, the remains of Russian troops are still being discovered in and around the villages they passed through or occupied near the capital, Kyiv. But according to Ukraine, Russia shows little interest in getting them back.

From the grave in the woods, the body was removed to a refrigerated train on the outskirts of Kyiv that now operates as a mobile morgue for the Russian dead.

The white plastic sacks are marked with numbers rather than names and there were at least 137 stacked inside two carriage.

Russia has a proud slogan: “We don’t abandon our own.” It’s a big part of President Vladimir Putin’s supposed justification for invading Ukraine, where he falsely claimed Russian-speakers needed protection. That pledge appears not to apply so much to Russia’s own soldiers.

“The bodies we’ve found show they treat people as rubbish, as cannon fodder,” Col Volodymyr Liamzin said, “They don’t need their soldiers. They throw them here, retreat – and leave the bodies.”

“We did do one swap,” Col Liamzin said, explaining that the Russian side provided a shortlist of the dead soldiers it wanted returned.

“We’re ready to give them all back, we want our own dead returned too. We knock on every door there is, but there is no response, no dialogue,” the colonel says.

The delay in collecting bodies isn’t unique to Russia.

Several Ukrainian families said their own government has been less than helpful in recovering the remains of Ukrainian soldiers from the battlefield.

One woman, who was told of her husband’s death by the men in his unit, said she had been trying to recover his body for almost three months.

Just up the road from Zavalivka in Sytnyaky, the village elder said at least 10 Russian soldiers were killed and left behind in March, probably more.

Their column was ambushed after they lost their way: the locals had removed and switched the traffic signs.

Leaflets in the ruins call on Russian soldiers to surrender and save their lives, and spare the blood of Ukrainian children.

The village elder said he and others buried the Russians after the battle “for sanitary reasons”; as most were blown to pieces.

A local man planting beetroot confirmed the Russians were killed along the main road. “It’s not humane to abandon a soldier, not to bury them,” Mikola said. His own son is in Ukraine’s army.

“My wife felt sorry for the Russians at first, but then we found out what they did here,” he added, referring to the shooting of unarmed civilians in places like Bucha and Irpin.”, “No-one feels sorry for the Russians after that.”

The refrigerated train in Kyiv is still filling up, and there are more in other cities close to the fighting. For the Ukrainian military who recover and store the bodies, there is little sympathy: the dead are enemy soldiers – invaders.

But in Russia, someone, somewhere must be looking for each one of them.



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