For Ukrainians who protect Russian soldiers' bodies, the stench of death is the smell of victory.

KHARKIV (Ukraine) -- A makeshift morgue is located in the outskirts Ukraine's second largest city.

13 June 2022 Monday 10:43
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For Ukrainians who protect Russian soldiers' bodies, the stench of death is the smell of victory.

KHARKIV (Ukraine) -- A makeshift morgue is located in the outskirts Ukraine's second largest city.

The body of a Russian soldier is lying on the ground, in an open bag, under the scorching summer sun. His fatigues are soaked with body fluids. Maggots are next to him and rip through the skin of another soldier, exposing his skull.

A warm June day saw Ukrainian soldiers carrying cigarettes in their mouths to cover the smell of Russian corpses, moving more than 80 Russian bodies from a train car to the semitruck's bed. They will be moved to an undisclosed place to exchange for the remains of fallen soldiers from Ukraine.

A small group of Ukrainian soldiers in Kharkiv's eastern border region has been collecting the remains of hundreds of Russian soldiers who were killed on the battlefield since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. It is a grueling task that serves as a stark reminder about the horrors of war and the dehumanization that comes with it.

A 41-year-old soldier, who goes by Summer, said that he respected all of the dead except these men. He spoke under the condition, like most soldiers, that he only be identified by his codename to avoid being targeted by Russians.

He said, "We only have hatred for them," as he ate a cheeseburger right in front of the train car. His appetite was not affected by the smell of dead bodies.

He said, "It's a smell of victory," between bites. It's satisfying to see them die.

Just a few feet away, a Kharkiv district procuror took a selfie in front the body bags.

According to Ukraine, 30,000 Russian soldiers were killed in the conflict since its beginning. However, it is impossible to verify these numbers. Russia has not updated its death toll since March 25, when the country claimed that 1,351 soldiers died in the conflict.

The total number of deaths in Ukraine is unknown. However, President Volodomyr Zelenskyy stated this month that 60-100 Ukrainian soldiers were dying every day in combat. Mykhaylo Podolyak, the Ukrainian presidential advisor, suggested last week that this number could rise to 200 soldiers per day.

Russia has been accused by Ukraine of refusing to return the dead. This is part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to hide the scale of his country's losses. The shifting front lines make it difficult to identify how many soldiers were left behind in enemy-controlled territory. Ukraine announced on June 4, that it had received 160 bodies from each side in exchange for 320 dead soldiers. This was the first time the country has acknowledged the existence of a body swap since the start of the war.

Summer and other body collectors will move in once Ukraine has defeated Russian forces. They go to areas where there was bloodshed. Locals may have given them tips about dead bodies smelling in nearby fields. They load shovels in trucks and travel to villages previously occupied to exhume Russian soldiers that had been buried by Ukrainian civilians.

"They're no longer people to us anymore," declared a soldier code-named Serhiy as he assisted in moving bodies from the train car morgue to the semi truck.

The 36-year old soldier code-named Vadim looked through his phone's camera roll, showing off a collection of photos he had taken of dead Russians. According to the severity of their wounds, he ranked his favorite "orcs". He said that this one was his current favorite, while lingering over a photograph of a badly injured body on the side of a road.

According to international convention, warring countries are required to do everything possible to find, record, and identify any dead on the battlefield. States in conflict must also respect the dignity of their dead during this process.

Summer stated, "There is only one rule: Don’t mess with corpses." "We don’t violate international law in life and death."

It is a standard military practice to take photos of the bodies of the deceased for record-keeping purposes. The fog of war blurs the lines between documenting a corpse and celebrating a kill.

Vadim stated that he views dead Russians as war criminals when he examines them. He said, "All I can think of are victims of their crime." Vadim stated that the allegations of rape and torture in Bucha, as well as murder, have been difficult to deal with.

Many Russians don't have documents or dog tags, so Ukrainians search for tattoos and other markings to help them identify. Some victims have suffered so severe injuries or been out in the open so long their bodies are not recognisable.

According to the Ukrainian soldiers, they often find jewelry hidden in pockets when searching for stolen items on Russian bodies. Serhiy claimed that he discovered a soldier killed in action who had taken the chest plate from his body armor and replaced it by a stolen laptop.

Although it is against the Geneva Conventions that despoil dead bodies is illegal, the Ukrainians often take souvenirs from Russians. Vadim claimed that he was fascinated by an expired gas mask he took from a Russian soldier.

According to Kharkiv soldiers, they have been engaged in body exchanges since March. Similar efforts have been made in cities such as Kyiv to collect bodies. These similar efforts were made in places like Kyiv where the Russians gave up their goal of capturing the capital only a few weeks after facing fierce resistance from the Ukrainian army.

Summer stated that sometimes they are given orders to prepare all the bodies they have collected in preparation for a swap. Sometimes they are asked to search through the train car morgue for a soldier to exchange, which is usually someone in the Russian military hierarchy.

Ukraine claims it has killed 12 Russian generals at the front lines. This is an extraordinary level of attrition against Moscow's top brass.

After the Ukrainian soldiers had finished emptying the Kharkiv train cars morgue of dead bodies and sent the semitruck to the body swap, they started to plan where to find them next. Vadim stated that he had received a tip about Russian meat from a Vilhivka resident. He suggested that they go there next.



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