BUCHA, Ukraine — The city of Bucha has begun burying the unidentified victims of the Russian occupation, despite months of research aimed at identifying the dead, reuniting them with family and giving them proper burials.
In March, Russian soldiers turned Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and other nearby towns into the sites of some of the most well-documented atrocities of the war.
The bodies of more than 400 dead, collected after the soldiers withdrew, have been sitting in morgues as officials try to determine who was killed and how. At a briefing on Monday, City Council officials announced the latest official tally: 458 bodies were found in the greater Bucha area, including 86 women and nine children.
The work has been slow, and the bodies keep coming. As a result, 15 unclaimed bodies were lowered on Tuesday into an empty patch at the edge of the city’s cemetery, the first of several burials planned this week. Only one body was identified by name, said the deputy mayor of Bucha, Mykhailyna Skoryk-Shkarivska — the others were marked with numbers.
Grave diggers hauled body bags from a truck and placed them in coffins before lowering them into the ground in a line of mechanically dug graves. An Orthodox priest blessed the site as two people sang the funeral rite.
About 50 bodies remain unclaimed, many of them still unidentified, Ms. Skoryk-Shkarivska said. And some bodies were so badly burned that their sex has yet to be confirmed.
The 15 buried on Tuesday died in Bucha and several nearby villages, she added. Among them were six unidentified men found in June in a mass grave in a forest not far from Bucha, as well as one unidentified woman found burned in her car.
Ms. Skoryk-Shkarivska said City Council officials had been requesting permission to bury the unidentified remains for weeks, but the continuing investigations had delayed the process.
There still is a chance to identify the bodies because DNA samples were taken and stored in a police database. But the identification process has been complicated by the DNA matching process, which can take one to six months, as well as by the fact that many relatives are now refugees, Ms. Skoryk-Shkarivska said.
“Half of the population is back,” she said, “but one half is still absent.”
So far, DNA tests have helped identify 17 victims, Ms. Skoryk-Shkarivska added.
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