Mala Rohan (Ukraine):
Ukraine is collecting the bodies of dead Russian soldiers scattered in the rubble of formerly occupied cities and using everything from DNA to tattoos to verify their identities in hopes of exchanging prisoners of war.
Volunteers have helped the military collect 60 bodies in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, where Russian forces have retreated in recent weeks, dumping them in a refrigerated rail carriage.
The bodies are sometimes used as part of a prisoner exchange and at other times in exchange for Ukrainian bodies, said Capt. Anton Ivanikov of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Military-Civil Cooperation Branch, who is coordinating the effort. The bodies of individuals associated with high-ranking officials can be particularly valuable for exchange.
“We’re collecting all the documents, all the credit cards. Anything, including tattoos and DNA, will help identify our bodies,” Ivanikov said.
“In the future it will tell us which soldiers, which brigades were in the area, for further exchange,” he said.
The bodies will travel by train to Kiev where the team is based on the exchange of talks, he said.
Recovery efforts have been made possible by pushing Ukrainian forces from Ukrainian cities in the Kharkiv region – and outside the artillery range of Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city.
In a recent recovery effort in the village of Mala Rohan, just east of the city of Kharkiv, Reuters saw volunteers using ropes to pull the bodies of two Russian soldiers from a well in a house severely damaged by gunfire.
At least one of the two had his hands tied, a sign, Ivanikov said, that they might have been punished as a desert. Reuters could not confirm the death toll.
Two volunteers wrapped the bodies in white plastic tarpaulins and picked them up in a waiting ambulance.
Volunteers exhumed another body from a shallow grave marked with a temporary cardboard sign that said “Russian occupier is buried here” with soldier’s name and burial date.
A fourth body – one of 12 found in the village in three days – was pulled from the basement of a woman’s home. He was left alone when his colleagues retreated, “Ivanikov said.” Most likely, he shot himself.
Russia’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment on whether Russian troops could be shot dead in the desert or whether it would consider exchanging bodies for Ukrainian prisoners of war.
While the Ukrainian military is retrieving bodies around Kharkiv, about 240 kilometers (149 miles) southeast, its forces are defending against a fierce attack in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
Moscow has called the move a “special operation” to disarm its neighbor. Kyiv says it has never threatened Russia in any way, and says the attack was completely unprovoked.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)