Ukraine: “I Want My Mother to Have a Grave”
Painful wait for Izyum residents as war crimes investigators collect evidence to identify the dead.
Izyum is slowly coming back to life, but six months of Russian occupation have left profound scars in the town in the eastern Kharkiv region.
Law enforcement officers are unearthing a mass burial site in a pine forest on the outskirts of town. A total of 447 graves have been identified.
According to the police and the Kharkiv regional military administration, most of the exhumed bodies so far bear signs of violent death, and 30 of them have marks of torture.
As workers protected by head-to-toe suits and rubber gloves dig in the forest, residents queue outside the local police station. Mobile investigation teams from the prosecutor general’s office gather information to help locals find their loved ones.
A DNA sample is taken from each exhumed body and matched with that of local residents before the body can be retrieved from the morgue and receive a proper burial.
In the centre, hardly a building is left undamaged. As there is no heating, Ukraine’s state emergency service allowed residents to dismantle a shelled school for firewood: the desks will keep people warm as the harsh winter bites. Residents stand in long, silent queues waiting for food and hot meals handed out by volunteers.