PRUDYANKA, Ukraine (AP) — The 4 troopers lay within the grass, sleeping baggage and cans of meals, some opened, scattered round them. Beneath close by bushes, their vehicles have been smashed and torn by shrapnel. The lads had been lifeless for months.
This area of rolling fields and woodland close to the Russian border was the location of fierce battles for months through the summer time. Solely now, after Ukrainian forces retook the realm and pushed Russian troops again throughout the border in a blistering counteroffensive, has the retrieval of our bodies scattered throughout the battlefield been doable.
The realm was of strategic significance as its excessive floor is among the many positions the place Russian artillery might simply strike Kharkiv, Ukraine’s hard-hit second-largest metropolis, mentioned Col. Vitalii Shum, deputy commander of the third Brigade of Ukraine’s Nationwide Guard, whose crew has been accumulating the battlefield lifeless — each Ukrainian and Russian — for days.
For the troopers’ households, information of the physique restoration will probably be remaining, incontrovertible affirmation that their son, brother, father or husband is not going to be coming house.
Even when that they had been notified that their family members died in fight, with no physique to mourn over a glimmer of hope remained.
“They might be hoping that he was captured, and that is the worst,” Shum mentioned. As soon as the our bodies’ identities are verified by DNA assessments, “a tough and onerous process will happen,” he added: notifying the household the physique has been discovered, and all hope of their liked one once more strolling by the entrance door is misplaced.
Through the retrieval mission on Monday, Shum’s crew photographed the location for proof and unpacked physique baggage as troopers checked the environment, and the our bodies themselves, for booby-traps and mines. One of many lifeless troopers had a hand grenade on him — he by no means had time to make use of it because the Russians closed in.
After the seek for explosives was completed, a soldier went by the pockets of the lifeless males’s uniforms for identification playing cards and private belongings, putting them in plastic baggage earlier than the decomposing our bodies have been lifted into physique baggage.
The duty was carried out matter-of-factly, quietly, gently. The physique baggage have been zipped up, numbered and carried alongside a muddy observe to a ready truck.
The battle right here occurred in June, and it was as ferocious because it was bloody. It included close-quarters fight in addition to the usage of tanks and artillery, mentioned 1st Lt. Mykyta Sydorenko, a 24-year-old commander of an anti-tank unit who participated within the struggle and was now again to assist acquire the stays of his fellow troopers.
In all, the Ukrainians had 4 positions within the space, and have been decided to carry them. The Russian troops attacked and captured 4 Ukrainian troopers, and the Ukrainians launched a rescue bid. An all-day battle ensued, Sydorenko mentioned. Ukrainian reinforcements got here in, however the Russians simply stored coming.
“They have been coming like ants, I simply don’t know find out how to describe it in one other approach,” he mentioned.
The losses have been heavy on each side. Sydorenko mentioned at the least 16 Russian troopers have been killed, with the Russians utilizing artillery to maintain the Ukrainians at bay whereas they collected their lifeless and wounded.
Of the Ukrainians, all six holding one place have been captured, he mentioned, and all eight holding one other have been wounded. Of the roughly 17 or 18 males at Sydorenko’s place, three have been killed and two have been wounded.
He’s unsure what occurred to the six males holding the fourth place. The realm the place the our bodies of the 4 males have been discovered was an evacuation level arrange for the wounded, he mentioned.
Ultimately, confronted with the Russian onslaught, the surviving Ukrainians, Sydorenko amongst them, have been pressured to retreat by a minefield and a swamp.
Returning to the place he misplaced his comrades wasn’t straightforward for the younger officer. It’s “disagreeable, frankly,” he mentioned. “There aren’t many good recollections from this place.”
Close by, a Russian tank lay burned, its tracks blown off its wheels, a blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag now fluttering atop it. Just a few days earlier, Shum’s males discovered the stays of a Russian soldier inside, which they collected and delivered to the Kharkiv morgue.
With the chilly autumn wind swaying the weeds and withered sunflowers rising wild within the fallow fields, Shum and his males continued their search. There was one other Ukrainian soldier’s physique by the aspect of the observe, and close by, the stays of one other who appeared to have been run over by the now-disabled tank.
Additional up a hill, a destroyed armored automobile and a automobile, scattered packing containers of ammunition and items of apparatus have been testomony to the ferocity of the struggle. Contained in the armored automobile was the physique of one other soldier.
The identical process was repeated, and the physique was lifted by the automobile’s damaged window. The soldier lifting the physique’s ft gagged, however waited till his process was accomplished earlier than heading for the bushes.
In all, Shum and his males collected seven Ukrainian troopers’ our bodies and located the hand of a Russian soldier amongst discarded Russian physique armor and backpacks. All of the stays have been taken to the Kharkiv morgue.
Quickly, the notification of the households will start.