Examiners in Bila Tserkva are being inundated with bodies, most of them shooting victims who were restrained before being killed
Ihor Maksymchenko, Head of Forensic Medical Examination in Bila Tserkva, is working day and night as more and more bodies arrive for autopsy CREDIT: Paul Grover for the Telegraph.
In all his life investigating murders, Serhii Luzhetskyi has never seen so many corpses.
As the District Prosecutor overseeing forensic examinations for murder investigations, he should be used to it. But the death of this war is on another scale.
“People should know this is genocide,” he said. “A lot of people in Europe are denying this. They need to know that this is genocide.”
His comments were a reference to French president Emmanuel Macron’s rejection of the term, just hours after Joe Biden, the US president, said Moscow was trying to “wipe out Ukrainians”.
Mr Macron said the West should be “careful” with such terms. But for those working in the town morgue in Bila Tserkva, 85km south of Kyiv, the atrocities committed by the Russian state are plain to see, with most bodies showing evidence of being tied up before being executed.
“Another 15 bodies are expected today,” said Ihor Maksymchenko, head of the local Department of Forensic Medical Examination. “This isn’t the end. The bodies will keep coming.”
Mr Maksymchenko and Mr Luzhetskyi had just finished examining two bodies. Both were men. Both had been shot. One in the head. The other in his chest.
Volodymyr Maistrenko, 80, had been buried in a shallow grave after he was killed. Mr Maksymchenko knew this because his face was still caked in mud.
Mr Maistrenko’s body had not decomposed as much as that of Andrii Kostetskyi, 51, who had been shot in the head. This meant he had most likely been left to rot in the street after he had been murdered.
“It was good that it was cold and good that a lot of [the bodies] were in the ground,” Mr Maksymchenko said, explaining that the weather had somewhat preserved the victims’ bodies. “Those that weren’t in the ground have been eaten in parts by dogs.”
In a typical pre-war month, Mr Maksymchenko said he would inspect around 80 bodies. But in the last ten days alone he has received more than that.
So far, their ages have ranged from 15 to 80 years old. The vast majority are male and come from Bucha.
Before, his work largely dealt with deaths from natural causes, he explained. “Now almost all of the bodies have been killed because of the war,” he said.
Throughout the war, Mr Maksymchenko has seen mainly shooting victims. A few have been killed by explosions and a smaller number from rocket strikes. Those that have been shot have varying injuries.
Some have been shot at point blank range in the head. Others have been shot multiple times all over their bodies.
However, there is one pattern Mr Maksymchenko has observed in his autopsies.
“Their arms and legs have been tied behind them,” he said. “Then they have been shot.”
Since the war began, his team has worked from morning until night.
“I cannot say the scale of what we are seeing for now because it has only just started,” he said. “But it does not compare to regular life.”
While death is something Mr Maksymchenko’s job revolves around, this war has made him more political.
“I really don’t like Russians. I call them butchers,” he said.
Mr Maksymchenko’s son is currently posted with the army in Kyiv, so on top of dealing with an enhanced level of death, he worries what will become of his child.
“We shall see what happens,” he said. “The war goes on.”