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 automobiles had been smashed and torn by shrapnel. The lads 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 world 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, stated Col. Vitalii Shum, deputy commander of the third Brigade of Ukraine’s Nationwide Guard, whose workforce has been gathering the battlefield useless — each Ukrainian and Russian — for days.

For the troopers’ households, information of the physique restoration shall be remaining, incontrovertible affirmation that their son, brother, father or husband won’t be coming dwelling.

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’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 troublesome and arduous 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.

Throughout the retrieval mission on Monday, Shum’s workforce photographed the positioning for proof and unpacked physique baggage 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.

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

The duty was carried out matter-of-factly, quietly, gently. The physique baggage had 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 using 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 acquire the stays of his fellow troopers.

In all, the Ukrainians had 4 positions within the space, and had 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 saved coming.

“They had been coming like ants, I simply don’t know how you can describe it in one other approach,” he stated.

The losses had been heavy on either side. Sydorenko stated a minimum of 16 Russian troopers had 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 had been captured, he stated, and all eight holding one other had been wounded. Of the roughly 17 or 18 males at Sydorenko’s place, three had been killed and two had 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 had been discovered was an evacuation level arrange for the wounded, he stated.

Ultimately, confronted with the Russian onslaught, the surviving Ukrainians, Sydorenko amongst them, had been compelled to retreat by a minefield and a swamp.

Returning to the place he misplaced his comrades wasn’t simple for the younger officer. It’s “disagreeable, frankly,” he stated. “There should not 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. A number 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 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 automotive, scattered bins of ammunition and items of apparatus had 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 ft 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 had been taken to the Kharkiv morgue.

Quickly, the notification of the households will start.

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