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‘It is very hard’: Meet Ukraine’s body collectors who take fallen soldiers home

Taras is the best person to understand how to deal with death, which is the most difficult reality of war.

This sergeant is part a unit that collects the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers who have been killed in action at the frontline morgues and delivers them to their families.

Taras, 44 years old, said to Sky News that he tries to bring our fallen soldiers home as soon as possible as he drove his truck through Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine.

“Their families need to say goodbye and bury them as it should. That is my mission.


He and the rest on the On The Shield team are in a constant cycle as Ukraine fights Russian attacks along its frontline in the Donetsk-Luhansk region.

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Although the Ukrainian authorities have not yet released numbers of their war-dead, Western officials estimate that more than 100,000 people have been killed or injured since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022. Even more Russian casualties have been reported by the United States, who most recently stated that the number was around 188,000.

One morning spent with Taras gave an idea of the extent of Ukraine’s losses.

He took 22 bodies from only two morgues.

Taras stated that it can be too difficult to see the cost his country is paying.

He said, “Sometimes it’s because of the young girls and boys.”

“Sometimes, I cry. It’s normal. Sometimes, when I return to the base, I just lie there thinking and crying.

Image Taras’s truck shuttles frontline morgues to slain soldier’s families

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He still puts on a brave front when greeting the Shield team, part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

They hug and exchange greetings.

Taras was asked how he managed not to lose his smile despite dealing with the death of his wife every day. I call my family, speak to my wife, my children, my parents, and my brothers. My heart is full of warmth and I want you to smile.

The first morgue Taras visited in Kramatorsk had four bodies waiting. Each was in a plastic bag with the names and dates of birth written in marker pen.

On The Shield’s purpose is to restore the dignity of military personnel to their loved ones.

The first two bags were carried in unzipped by officials at the morgue.

Image Soldiers need to identify the bodies at the frontline morgues before they can be taken

One soldier’s face had been partially severed. Officials at the morgue said that the injuries were most likely caused by an artillery round.

The second soldier did not appear to have any obvious injuries. He appeared to be in a kind of frozen sleep. A second official at the morgue said that he was killed in an explosion blast. They were fighting Russian aggressions in the vicinity of Bilohorivka, Luhansk. There is fierce fighting.

Taras was able to bend over each body and take a photograph as part the trail of evidence.

Also, identity papers such as passports or ID cards are checked.

The bags were then zip-zipped and moved to the back of the lorry. The next two bags were then taken out.

One of the bags had a date on it – 8 Feb 1996. This indicated that the soldier holding it would have been celebrating his 27th Birthday. The flag was a military one from his unit’s air assault brigade. The flag was folded neatly and put in a plastic bag. It was then placed on his body before being zipped back up.

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After bringing the soldiers back from battle, a combat medic said that it was obvious that a new Russian offensive had begun.

It is easy to sense because the frontline is close by. He said that this is audible.

When asked if he noticed a rise in the number collected of dead soldiers, he replied: “It’s not relevant because we can’t always retrieve them from battle because the aggressor does everything [to stop us ]…].

“The bodies that are brought here don’t reveal the truth. We bring only the bodies we are able to pull out. Some can be brought out, but not all.

Taras carried four bodies with him in his lorry and moved on to the second morgue in Sloviansk. There were 15 bodies already in the back of Taras’ lorry, most in black plastic bags. Two more bodies arrived in military ambulances.

With the help of Margo, a young woman who managed the morgue, the body collector and other workers processed the majority the dead.

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“If Putin wins, it will have an impact on Beijing’s actions throughout Asia,” says Jens Stoltenberg, chief of NATO.

She stated that the number of soldiers who have died in combat varied from day to day. 43 was the highest number of soldiers killed in 24 hours.

She said that it did impact her, “strongly” while sitting at a small desk where she signed off paperwork for each person.

“When I take documents out of my bag and open them to see the birth date, my eyes well up with tears. It’s hard to stay composed. It’s very difficult.”

Lina, a military paramedic, was present at the morgue after helping to rescue some fallen soldiers from the frontline. She was in a hurry to get back to her unit.

She said, “In our direction it is pretty tense.” “My men are in grave peril and need my support.”

Lina raced to the waiting car and then left.

Taras’ next stop was Dnipro (about a four hour drive north). Two other On The Shield drivers operating in eastern frontline areas had also collected bodies and were headed in the same direction.

The bodies are taken to the Dnipro main morgue or to two other nearby morgues. There, the military has set up large refrigerated lorries that can handle the death volume.

These facilities have forensic experts who examine every body to determine the cause. A third member of the Shield unit then transfers the fallen soldiers to their families through recruitment centres located in their local areas.

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The 42-year-old commander of the entire unit, Colonel Vladyslav, asked the UK and other Western allies for more weapons and ammunition for Ukraine to increase their capabilities and decrease the amount of Russian losses.

He said that “the best men die for the war,” standing outside the Sloviansk mortuary.

“We defend our country, that is evident – but we don’t have as many troops than Russia. It is therefore crucial to get to victory as quickly as possible.


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