Russians accused of burning bodies in Kherson dump | Ukraine

youhe landfill on the outskirts of Kherson offers a few visible hints here and there, among the rubbish piles, of what locals and workers say happened in its recent past. Russian flags, uniforms and helmets emerge from the rotting mud, while hundreds of seagulls and dozens of stray dogs rummage around.

As the Russian occupation of the region was on its last legs over the summer, the site, once a mundane place where residents disposed of their rubbish, became a no-go area, according to Khersonians, fiercely cordoned off by police forces. invading forces of alleged prying eyes.

The reason for the nervous secrecy, several residents and workers at the site told The Guardian, was that the occupying forces had a gruesome new purpose there: to dump the bodies of their fallen brothers and then burn them.

Residents report seeing Russian open trucks arriving at the site with black bags which they then set on fire, filling the air with a great cloud of smoke and a terrifying stench of burning meat.

They believe that the Russians were disposing of the bodies of their soldiers killed during the heavy fighting on those summer days.

“Every time our army bombed the Russians there, they took the remains to the dump and burned them,” says Iryna, 40, a Kherson resident.

Two Russian helmets at the Kherson dump.
Two Russian helmets at the Kherson dump. Photography: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian

Ukraine’s attempts to gain momentum and retake the southern city began in late June, when the long-awaited US-made Himars long-range rockets finally hit one of the front lines there. Kyiv was putting them to good use to heavily damage bridges across the Dnipro, destroy Russian ammunition depots, and engage enemy artillery and forces.

It was around this time, residents said, that they began to fear a new use for the site.

It is not possible to independently verify the claims, and Ukrainian authorities said they could not comment on whether the claims were being investigated. The Guardian visited the dump, located on the northwestern outskirts of the city, five days after Kherson’s liberation and spoke to site employees, as well as several other city residents, who backed up the claims made by others in summer. .

“The Russians drove a kamaz full of garbage and corpses all together and dumped,” said a Kherson garbage collector who asked not to be named. “Do you think someone was going to bury them? They dumped them and then they dumped the trash on them, and that’s it.”

Workers on site.
Workers on site. Photography: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian

He said he did not see if the bodies belonged to soldiers or civilians. “I did not see. I have said enough. I am not afraid, I have been fighting this war since 2014. I have been in Donbas.

“But the less you know, the better you sleep,” he added, quoting a Ukrainian saying. Fear lives on among residents who lived for eight months under a police state, in which the Russian authorities did not tolerate the slightest hint of dissent. The price was arrest, or worse still: death.

Svitlana Viktorivna, 45, who with her husband, Oleksandr, has been hauling waste to the dump in their truck for years, said a Russian checkpoint was set up at its entrance.

Svitlana Viktorivna with her husband, Oleksandr.
Svitlana Viktorivna with her husband, Oleksandr. Photography: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian

“We were not allowed to go near the area of ​​the dump where the bodies were being burned,” he says. “So let me tell you what it was like: They came here, left some of their soldier-guards, and volleyed and burned. One day my husband and I arrived at the wrong time. We came here while they were doing their ‘business’ and they hit my husband hard in the face with a club.”

“I did not see the remains,” he adds. “They buried what was left.”

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has said nearly 6,000 soldiers have been killed in Ukraine, but the Pentagon estimated in late summer that some 80,000 Russian soldiers had been killed or wounded.

The dump workers said the Russians had chosen an area on the more isolated side of the dump. For security reasons, it is not possible to visit. A trucker who worked at the dump said he did not rule out that the Russians may have mined the area or left unexploded ordnance.

“I heard the story, but I didn’t go as far with my truck to unload the garbage. But I can guarantee you that whatever they did, it smelled as bad as [rotten] meat,” says the trucker. “And the smoke… the smoke was thick.”

“Every time our army bombed the Russians there, they would take the remains to the dump and burn them,” says Iryna, center. Photography: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian

Residents of a large Soviet-era apartment block across from the dump said that when the Russians began burning, a great cloud of smoke rose up filling the air with an overpowering smell of decay, to the point where it felt impossible to breathe. .

“I felt nauseated when I smelled that smoke,” says Olesia Kokorina, 60, who lives on the eighth floor. “And it was scary too, because it smelled like burned hair, and it also smelled like at the dentist when they drill your tooth before putting in a filling. And the smoke was so thick you couldn’t see the building next door.”

“It just never smelled like that before,” says Natalia, 65. “There were many dump trucks and they were all covered with bags. I don’t know what was in them, but the stench from the smoke in the dump was so strong that we couldn’t even open the balcony door. There were days when you couldn’t breathe because of the smell.”

Some believe that burning the bodies of their own soldiers was the easiest way to dispose of the corpses, since the bridges over the Dnipro River when the Russians were virtually isolated on its western bank were too flimsy to carry trucks.

Dozens of other Kherson residents corroborated the reports from their neighbours, but Ukrainian authorities have so far remained silent. A local official who requested anonymity said: “We are not interested in the burial sites of the enemy. What we are interested in is finding the bodies of Ukrainians, tortured, killed and buried in mass graves here in the Kherson region.”

Ukraine’s security service believes the bodies of thousands of dead Russian soldiers are being informally disposed of as the Kremlin is registering them as “missing in action” in a bid to cover up their losses in the war in Ukraine.

An intercepted phone call from a Russian soldier in May said his comrades had been buried in “a man-high dump” outside occupied Donetsk. “There are so many Cargo 200 [military code for dead soldiers] that the mountains of corpses are 2 meters high,” he said in the summons. “It is not a morgue, it is a dump. It’s huge.

“They just dump them there,” a Russian soldier said in another intercepted call. “And then it’s easier to do it as if they disappeared without a trace. It’s easier for them to pretend they’re just missing, and that’s it.”

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