DNA Tests and Stranded Bodies: Ukraine’s Struggle to Name Its Dead

By John Mercury May 6, 2024

The bodies of the two Ukrainian soldiers lay motionless in a field for months. Around them were bloodstains and their rifles.

The soldiers’ relatives identified their bodies from aerial footage gathered by drone. Though excruciating to watch, it seemed clear: The two men — Pvt. Serhiy Matsiuk and Pvt. Andriy Zaretsky — were dead. Yet more than four months later, the Ukrainian military still lists them as missing, even though subsequent drone footage provided by a fellow soldier weeks later showed them still lying there.

“I want to have his grave, where I can come and cry all this out properly,” said Private Zaretsky’s wife, Anastasia, 31, who has been looking for closure since he was killed in November in the Zaporizhzhia region in Ukraine’s south.

This confusion, and the lengthy, difficult process of obtaining official declaration of the deaths, is far from isolated and has emerged as another painful consequence of the two-year-old war.

Families, lawyers and rights groups say that the Ukrainian military is simply overloaded with casualties and unable to account for thousands of the dead, adding to the anguish of soldiers’ families.

Relatives of the two men in the field said that as far as they know, the bodies are still lying on the ground in the Zaporizhzhia area.

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