‘You can come home now:’ Ukraine’s recovery teams work to ensure no fallen soldiers are left behind

Editor’s note: Warning: This story contains disturbing images.

Brashkivka, Ukraine

Before the war, Leonid Bondar, who wore the uniform of the Red Army, knew all the facts about the great Soviet battles of World War II, such as where they fought, who won, who fell where.

His work at the Ukrainian War History Museum took him across the country to retrieve the remains of World War II soldiers.

On today’s battlefield, Bondar’s skills are an essential part of the war effort of a struggling nation as they resist Moscow’s invading forces and find and repatriate Ukraine’s fallen heroes.

He is a humble person who plays his role saying that he is doing it for the families of the fighters and for the country.

By the end of August, the Ukrainian military admitted more than 9,000 deaths; A month later, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that 50 soldiers were being killed every day.

Dubbed Home on Your Shield, Bondari’s class is based on the legend of Mother Sparta, who told her warriors two and a half thousand years ago, “Come back with your shield…or come on her.”

A CNN team met him on a wet, cold, windswept ridge above the now-pulverized village of Brashkivka in eastern Ukraine, where rolling fields filled with rotting, unharvested crops darken into distant forests.

The Yellowstone Barn overlooks the scene he came to unravel; two of its windows are framed by weathered wood, and the shutters poke holes in the walls.

Also Read :  Yuli Gurriel replaced by Korey Lee on Astros' World Series roster 

It was a great point to defend and a hell of a place. A broken cell phone tower behind a bunker where Ukrainian soldiers may have died would have been an excellent marker for enemy artillery. Six people are missing and presumed dead.

The setting is a silent reminder that war is brutal, taking away the peace of their lives and loved ones. Every battlefield has stories buried in unspent time, faded in color, waiting to be told at the last second.

Four months ago, in the battle for the ridge line near Braškivka, a small field next to a camera tower and a barn was the place.

A broken cell phone tower behind a tunnel bunker where Ukrainian soldiers may have died would have been an excellent sign of enemy artillery.

Bondar and his two colleagues are the first troops to search for casualties since Ukrainian forces retook the area from Russian forces six weeks ago.

A video shared by Bondar soldiers captures the happy moments before their story ends. The shafts of sunlight piercing the wood and mud roofs of the tunnel bunkers a few feet from the tower indicated the danger they faced.

The roof was not strong enough to take a direct hit, Bondar said. Preliminary findings at the site suggest that two men may have been ejected from the bunker by a shell explosion, while others may have been buried by fallen masonry and dirt.

They carefully search the site for mines and traps before testing this theory. Bondar showed CNN one of the most feared anti-personnel mines: emerging from a protective cylinder, standing on thin, sensitive legs, and dying 15 meters away from nearby movement.

Also Read :  Brazil school shooting: At least 3 dead and 11 injured

After the site is declared safe, Bondar begins his quest to tell the story of the soldiers, which reveals his worst fears.

Metal hinges and screws from wooden ammunition boxes mixed with bone fragments lie in a rusted, charred heap a few meters from the bunker.

Bondar speculates that the Russians burned the bodies thrown by the explosion, not buried them. He said it was “not the first time that we have faced a situation where the norms of humanity are not respected and soldiers are not given a proper burial”.

Leonid Bondar and his two colleagues are the first soldiers to search for the dead fighters since Ukrainian forces retook the area from Russian forces six weeks ago.

A few meters away, partially hidden in the long grass, is a human back and pelvis. For Bondar, the heat-bleached bones were what he was looking for, and he carefully placed them in a heavy, white plastic forensics bag.

His rubber-gloved fingers search for every fragment in the dirt, each fragment a possible source of DNA and comfort for grieving families. When he found the ring, he thanked the fallen soldier out loud for helping him identify himself.

Meanwhile, his team shovels rubble and accumulated dirt from the bunker in hopes of finding other soldiers.

The small bone fragments seem to be looking for three, maybe four, in the right places, and the soldiers are either huddled at one end of the bunker or standing unexploded, but it’s too early to tell.

It’s hard work. Bondar and his crew took off their jackets and lifted shovelfuls of debris from the collapsed bunker above their heads.

Also Read :  Ukraine's troops move cautiously into Kherson as Russia declares its hasty withdrawal complete

As they worked, other Ukrainian soldiers approached and told the crew that they had found a dead Russian soldier alone inside a burned-out car half a mile away.

The charred and charred body found in the back of the destroyed armored personnel carrier was also gently lifted into a white body bag. The location in Russia, even the VIN number of the vehicle and other details are carefully recorded. His body is respected in the same way as that of the fallen patriots of Ukraine.

Returning to the bunker, as the dirt was slowly removed and the shovel replaced with a small scraper and small scissors, the outline of three soldiers appeared broken and crushed against the red brick bunker wall. Knees, head gestures, then hunched shoulders, hands still clutching the rifle.

“You can go home now,” Bondar whispered, releasing the first body and gently placing it into a waiting white bag.

They examine the second soldier’s pocket dug in the mud and the band in his breast pocket along with his ID. He was 32 years old when he died. “Thank you for helping us,” Bondar said to the body.

When we leave, one body is missing, but Bondar vows to keep looking. The only certainty here is that as long as the war continues, his work will not be done.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related Articles

Back to top button