MALA ROHAN (Ukraine):
Ukraine is collecting the bodies of dead Russian soldiers strewn among the rubble of formerly occupied cities and using everything from DNA to tattoos to verify their identities in the hopes of trading them for prisoners of war.
Volunteers helped the army collect 60 bodies in the northeastern region of Kharkov, where Russian troops have been withdrawn in recent weeks, and piled them in a refrigerated train car.
Bodies are sometimes used as part of the prisoner exchange and other times in exchange for Ukrainian bodies, said Anton Ivannikov, captain of the military-civilian cooperation arm of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which is coordinating the effort. The bodies of those associated with high-ranking officials can be particularly valuable for an exchange.
“We’re collecting all documents, all credit cards. Anything that could help us identify the body,” including tattoos and DNA, Ivannikov said.
“In the future, this will tell us which soldier, which brigade, was in this region for further exchange,” he said.
The bodies will travel by train to Kiev, where the team is negotiating, he said.
The recovery attempt was made possible by Ukraine pushing Russian troops out of towns in the Kharkov region — and largely beyond the artillery range of the city of Kharkov, the country’s second largest.
In a recent rescue attempt in the village of Mala Rohan, just east of the city of Kharkov, Reuters witnessed volunteers use ropes to drag the bodies of two Russian soldiers from a pit between houses badly damaged by shelling.
At least one of the two had his hands tied, a sign, Ivannikov said, that they may have been punished as deserters. Reuters was unable to verify the circumstances of one of the deaths.
Two volunteers wrapped the bodies in white plastic tarpaulin and lifted them into a waiting ambulance.
The volunteers dug another body from a shallow grave, marked with a makeshift cardboard sign that read “Russian resident buried here” with the soldier’s name and date of burial.
A fourth body – one of 12 found in the village in three days – was recovered from the basement of a woman’s home. He was left alone when his colleagues withdrew,” Ivannikov said. “Most likely he shot himself.”
The Russian Defense Ministry has not responded to a request for comment on claims that Russian soldiers have been shot dead for deserting, or that it would consider exchanging bodies for Ukrainian prisoners of war.
As the Ukrainian army recovers bodies around Kharkov, about 150 miles (240 km) to the southeast, its forces defend against intense attacks in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
Moscow calls its actions a “special operation” to disarm its neighbor. Kiev said it did not threaten Russia in any way and says the attack was unprovoked at all.
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