The freshly exhumed remains of three men in black body bags wait to be taken to the morgue at the edge of a small cemetery in a town not far from Ukraine’s capital. No one has been identified yet.
Ukrainian authorities are still locating those who were hastily buried in makeshift graves during Russia’s brief but brutal occupation of villages and towns near Kiev. About 200 bodies remain unidentified, while 280 people are listed as missing.
Halina, mother of Alexander Pinchuk, is one of them. They never found his body in the rubble of his apartment building, which had been directly hit by an airstrike the year before. He said Pinchuk had left the building eight hours ago and has not seen his mother since then.
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On Thursday, Pinchuk stood in the winter chill, among a small group of mourners gathered for a religious service to mark the anniversary of the strike in the town of Borodanka.
“Just look at what the Russians brought us and what they did to our beautiful city,” said priest Dmytro Koshka, who conducted the service at the former site of the residential building. “How can we ever forget and forgive?”
Nothing remains of the structure except the outline of where it once stood. Behind it is another apartment building, black and empty but still standing.
Pinchuk said rescuers only managed to reach the building last April after the Ukrainian military retook control of Borodanka. Crews dug into the wreckage for nearly two weeks and found the remains of 15 people. But they found no sign of dozens more people inside the 108-apartment building.
“We still have hope for at least some of them, but the rest, they were burned alive,” Pinchuk said, the pain of loss visible in his eyes.
Without a body to mourn and to bury, the 43-year-old hopes against hope that his mother is still alive. He heard rumors that Russian soldiers took more than 100 people from Borodanka to Belarus. Maybe she was one of them.
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“Until the last moment, I will consider him alive,” he said.
The exhumation of three bodies on Thursday from two temporary graves at the edge of Borodayanka’s cemetery meant some families may get a chance to learn what happened to their loved ones.
A passer-by found the three in early March 2022, when Russia’s military still occupied the city, and he buried the bodies with the help of another man, according to Andrey Nebetov, chief of the Kiev region’s police department.
After this the passer-by fled from the spot. The police chief said he recently returned and told officials about the burial.
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One of the dead is a 50-year-old local man believed to have been shot and partially burned in his car, but DNA testing is needed to confirm this. No one knows who the other two are.
There isn’t much to identify them with. A green pencil is all that is found on one, packets of cigarettes and keys on the other. The remains are so decomposed that forensic tests will be needed to determine the identity and exactly how he died.
Nebyatov said the excavation brought the number of civilian bodies found in Russian-occupied areas of the Kiev region to 1,373. Of these, 197 have not yet been identified.
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