PRUDYANKA, Ukraine (AP) — The 4 troopers lay within the grass, sleeping luggage and cans of meals, some opened, scattered round them. Beneath close by bushes, their vehicles have been smashed and torn by shrapnel. The boys had been useless for months.

This area of rolling fields and woodland close to the Russian border was the positioning of fierce battles for months in the course of 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.

Ukrainian national guard servicemen carry a bag containing the body of a Ukrainian soldier in an area near the border with Russia, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on Sept. 19, 2022.
Ukrainian nationwide guard servicemen carry a bag containing the physique of a Ukrainian soldier in an space close to the border with Russia, in Kharkiv area, Ukraine, on Sept. 19, 2022.

Leo Correa by way of Related Press

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, stated Col. Vitalii Shum, deputy commander of the third Brigade of Ukraine’s Nationwide Guard, whose crew has been gathering the battlefield useless — each Ukrainian and Russian — for days.

For the troopers’ households, information of the physique restoration might be ultimate, incontrovertible affirmation that their son, brother, father or husband is not going to be coming residence.

Even when they’d been notified that their family members died in fight, with no physique to mourn over a glimmer of hope remained.

“They’d be hoping that he was captured, and that is the worst,” Shum stated. As soon as the our bodies’ identities are verified by DNA checks, “a tough and arduous process will happen,” he added: notifying the household the physique has been discovered, and all hope of their beloved one once more strolling by the entrance door is misplaced.

Throughout the retrieval mission on Monday, Shum’s crew photographed the positioning for proof and unpacked physique luggage as troopers checked the environment, and the our bodies themselves, for booby-traps and mines. One of many useless troopers had a hand grenade on him — he by no means had time to make use of it because the Russians closed in.

A Ukrainian serviceman looks for booby traps as he checks the site where a body of a Ukrainian soldier was found inside an armored vehicle in an area near the border with Russia, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on Sept. 19, 2022.
A Ukrainian serviceman seems for booby traps as he checks the positioning the place a physique of a Ukrainian soldier was discovered inside an armored automobile in an space close to the border with Russia, in Kharkiv area, Ukraine, on Sept. 19, 2022.

Leo Correa by way of Related Press

After the seek for explosives was completed, a soldier went by the pockets of the useless males’s uniforms for identification playing cards and private belongings, inserting them in plastic luggage earlier than the decomposing our bodies have been lifted into physique luggage.

The duty was carried out matter-of-factly, quietly, gently. The physique luggage have been zipped up, numbered and carried alongside a muddy monitor to a ready truck.

A Ukrainian national guard serviceman stands atop a destroyed Russian tank in an area near the border with Russia, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on Sept. 19, 2022.
A Ukrainian nationwide guard serviceman stands atop a destroyed Russian tank in an space close to the border with Russia, in Kharkiv area, Ukraine, on Sept. 19, 2022.

Leo Correa by way of Related Press

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, stated 1st Lt. Mykyta Sydorenko, a 24-year-old commander of an anti-tank unit who participated within the battle and was now again to assist gather 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 stated. Ukrainian reinforcements got here in, however the Russians simply stored coming.

“They have been coming like ants, I simply don’t know methods to describe it in one other means,” he stated.

The losses have been heavy on either side. Sydorenko stated not less than 16 Russian troopers have been killed, with the Russians utilizing artillery to maintain the Ukrainians at bay whereas they collected their useless and wounded.

Of the Ukrainians, all six holding one place have been captured, he stated, 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 undecided 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 stated.

Finally, confronted with the Russian onslaught, the surviving Ukrainians, Sydorenko amongst them, have been compelled 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 stated. “There aren’t many good reminiscences 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. A couple of 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 facet of the monitor, 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 automotive, scattered packing containers of ammunition and items of kit have been testomony to the ferocity of the battle. 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 toes gagged, however waited till his job 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.

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