BUCHA, Ukraine — The city of Bucha has begun burying the unidentified victims of the Russian occupation, despite months of research aimed at identifying the dead, reuniting them with family and providing decent burials.
In March, Russian soldiers turned Bucha, a suburb of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, and other nearby towns into the sites of some of the war’s best-documented atrocities.
The bodies of more than 400 dead, collected after the soldiers withdrew, have sat in morgues as officials try to determine who was killed and how. During a briefing on Monday, city council officials released the latest official count: 458 bodies were found in the greater Bucha area, including 86 women and nine children.
The work has been slow and the bodies keep coming. As a result, 15 unclaimed bodies were dropped on Tuesday in an empty spot on the edge of the city’s cemetery, the first of a number of funerals scheduled for this week. Only one body was identified by name, Bucha deputy mayor Mykhailyna Skoryk-Shkarivska said — the others were marked with numbers.
Gravediggers removed body bags from a truck and placed them in coffins before lowering them into the ground in a row of mechanically dug graves. An Orthodox priest blessed the spot while two people sang the funeral ritual.
About 50 bodies have not yet been claimed, many of them still unidentified, Ms Skoryk-Shkarivska said. And some of the bodies were so badly burned that their gender has yet to be confirmed.
The 15 buried on Tuesday died in Bucha and several nearby villages, she added. Among them were six unidentified men who were found in a mass grave in a forest not far from Bucha in June, as well as an unidentified woman who was found burned in her car.
Ms Skoryk-Shkarivska said city council officials had been asking for permission to bury the unidentified remains for weeks, but ongoing investigations had delayed the process.
There is still a chance to identify the bodies as DNA samples have been taken and stored in a police database. But the identification process is complicated by the DNA matching process, which can take one to six months, and by the fact that many family members are now refugees, Ms Skoryk-Shkarivska said.
“Half the population is back,” she said, “but half is still absent.”
So far, DNA tests have helped identify 17 victims, Ms Skoryk-Shkarivska added.