How Ukraine brings back bodies of dead soldiers in tense exchange in Russian territory

Families kneeled together on the snow and the elderly stood at the gates of their houses, hands clasped. Many were red-faced and weeping.

So far, the body exchanges, unlike the prisoner-of-war trades, have continued without disruption. Once the bodies are back in Ukraine, the identification process can take anywhere from 10 days to a year, or more, say officials.

Maksym Fedorenko, head of the Cherkasy region morgue, one of several morgues that deal with the repatriated bodies, said the hold-up was usually caused by the state of the bodies and the collection of DNA samples from relatives.

Cause of death

Most of the repatriated bodies are unrecognisable: charred, rotten and disfigured by explosives.

After the bodies are exchanged – between 60 and 100 soldiers at one time – they travel straight to a morgue for processing. The mortician and investigators note any physical identifiers, take pictures, extract DNA, compile a dental card and establish the cause of death.

The few whose documents survived or are physically well-preserved are prioritised.

Given the time needed to defrost a body and the morgue’s ability to examine three to four bodies per day, a single repatriation load takes the morgue at least a month to six weeks to process.

Once a body is processed, bits of skin, hair or tissue are sent for DNA extraction at state laboratories – a process which takes around four days. DNA certification is an obligatory part of the identification process for all dead soldiers under Ukrainian law.

But the state of the repatriated bodies means DNA samples are often of poor quality and sometimes impossible to obtain. If the first sample doesn’t generate enough data, lab clinicians may either take a different part of the sample for testing or request additional samples from the morgue. The bodies then need to be defrosted once more, another sample obtained and the lab work starts afresh.

“The main thing is not to make a mistake,” said Vasyl Aksyonov, who heads the DNA testing under Cherkasy’s police, explaining why the procedure cannot be speeded up.

Acute staff shortages

The other issue is the relatives’ DNA samples. When relatives are notified that the soldier is missing in action, they are encouraged to give DNA samples – a system that has improved since the early stages of the war but is nevertheless imperfect. There are acute staff shortages in some labs and at a local police level, and swabs can be incorrectly taken, say officials.

Kostyantyn Dubonos, deputy head of Ukraine’s state forensics bureau, said Ukraine has trained 1,500 lab clinicians and opened 13 laboratories since the invasion and plan to open a further five this year. Increasing capacity, he said, would mean that relatives would hear sooner.

“The work has increased year on year by 90 per cent,” Mr Dubonos said. “Even if the war ends now, with repatriations and discoveries, we will have enough work for a decade to come.”

But another factor slowing the process, and out of the control of the authorities, is that some relatives refuse to give DNA samples, wanting to believe that their loved ones are alive and being held prisoner. Even relatives of those who have been identified and buried have come back asking for additional DNA tests, said Mr Dubonos.

Mykola Shatniuk, a 33-year-old soldier from Ukraine’s 72 Brigade, was killed in Volnovakha, Donetsk region, in late October 2022 and exchanged through the corridor just over a month later, in early December 2022. But his body was not released to his family until six months later, in July 2023.

Source link

About the author

Opera Jobs

Opera Jobs is a one-stop destination for job seekers and employers alike. This innovative job website was created with the goal of connecting talented individuals with exciting employment opportunities in various industries. Opera Jobs boasts a user-friendly interface that allows job seekers to easily search for jobs based on their preferences, skills, and experience. Employers can also post job listings and seamlessly connect with qualified candidates through the platform. With a wide range of job categories and locations available, Opera Jobs is the perfect platform for both job seekers and employers to find their ideal match in the competitive job market.

Leave a Comment