In the collection of corpses in the Ukrainian village Andriivka there is a ritual: First a yellow question mark is marked on the house, then the police arrive to dig up the grave. Finally, the relatives are confronted with the sad discovery.
Some of them are stoic and resigned to the remains of a loved one who is now gone. Others rush to his side to caress him, as if trying to wake him from a deep sleep.
AFP reporters thus saw on Monday the bodies of three plainclothes men being exhumed from Andriïvka’s gardens, more than 30 kilometers west of Kiev.
They are Rouslan Iaremtchouk, 46, Leonid Bondarenko, 68, and Yuri Kravtchennia, 46, according to their identity documents and their neighbors.
According to a local official, three other bodies were exhumed earlier. Buried by their neighbors had all been killed by the Russians, residents say.
Andriivka, where 2,000 people lived before Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, was occupied by Moscow forces until their withdrawal from the area in late March.
Rouslan was buried in a garden, behind a white house, wearing a blue sweater, jeans and gray hiking boots. His body is being hoisted by three men.
His neighbor Viktor Ganiouk, 42, knows only his first name: Rouslan. It was he who buried him, with the help of another villager.
Nearby, police are writing a report, bearing a diploma revealing his name. Ruslan Yaremchuk studied electrical engineering at the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute.
On the doorstep, three Russian army rations opened. “That man went and stole them. That’s probably why he was killed,” Viktor said.
According to him, his neighbor was shot “behind the ear”. Rouslan’s body is placed in a body bag and police continue.
The next, Leonid Bondarenko, is buried near a pink house, a flourishing morgue cross with the inscription: March 6, 2022. The day of his death.
Her body is wrapped in a patterned blue duvet. Three men lift him up and reveal his bloody head.
Her 39-year-old son Oleksandre stands resignedly in front of the house gate. His father was killed in a bombing, and a neighbor buried him a few days later.
“I do not know how ordinary people should react to all this. They destroyed the whole village,” he breathes.
Artiom Yelisseïev, a 25-year-old policeman, wonders: “What to think when it is civilians who are killed, not soldiers?”. Today, he revealed a middle-aged man and a pensioner who were also killed. “It’s hard for me to talk about how I feel,” he says.
Yuri Kravchenya’s body is buried in the ground near a ruined house. As he crawls up from the ground, his wife Olessia screams in pain inside the ruins.
She looks over the fence and sees her husband’s body being lifted.
The body is wrapped in corrugated plastic and its face is light green. When Olessia sees her again, she hurries to her side, but her legs suddenly give way and she collapses. Yuri was shot and killed on the street as he held up his hands, she said.
“He’s been gone for 41 days and I’m crying. I can not continue without him,” she laments.
Her neighbor, Tetiana Iermakova, 53, comes to comfort her. She is also a widow. Her husband Igor, 54, is buried in the nearby garden.
Igor was arrested by Russian soldiers on March 2 because he was circulating information about the presence of Moscow forces, according to his sister-in-law Lyudmila Oleksiyenko. Two days later, he was found dead near the electricity pylons.
“They just said there was someone there. I was told: + Go and see if it’s yours +”, says Lioudmila Oleksiyenko, 63.
The body of the body was tied tightly with a rope behind its back so much that they turned blue, she said.
“With my sister, we dragged him to the garden here, to bury him. We dug the hole ourselves,” Lioudmila continues.
His body will be the seventh to be exhumed on Monday if the inhabitants of this village still find the strength to continue.