Russian soldiers pose more trouble for Ukrainians than just as combatants - there is nowhere to store their corpses. As Russia ignores Ukrainian overtures to repatriate the bodies of killed Russian troops, morgues have reached their capacity.
Following the Russian withdrawal from the north of Kyiv after their failed attempt to take or encircle the city, Ukrainian defenders found hundreds of bodies of civilians murdered by the invaders. But also hundreds of dead Russian soldiers, whose bodies Russians have not evacuated. In many cases, the aggressors left in such a rush, that they did not even bury their comrades-in-arms.
Now, following the Ukrainian counteroffensive that pushed Russia away from Kharkiv, the vicinity of which saw heavy fighting since the start of the war 81 days ago, there are even more dead Russian soldiers to bury.
The head of Ukraine’s civil-military co-operation, Volodymr Lyamzin, said that Ukrainians intend to act in accordance with international law and return the bodies to Russia. “Of course, if the aggressor has bodies of our deceased, like in the graves on the temporarily occupied territories, we are ready to take them away too,” said Mr Lyamzin. “ But at the moment, there is no dialogue between Russia and Ukraine,” he added.
Right now, Ukrainian authorities are facing the problem of what to do with the dead Russian soldiers in the meantime. As morgues began to overflow with the massive number of dead servicemen’s bodies, Ukraine resorted to storing them in refrigerated train cars in various places in Ukraine. “It’s not a secret. There are several of [refrigerator trains]," said Mr Lyamzin. Reuters reporters were admitted to one rail yard, where hundreds of corpses in body bags were kept in the train cars.
Russia avoids releasing information about their combat losses. The only up-to-date numerical data available are the estimates released by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence and independently conducted NATO assessments. The most obvious motive the Kremlin may have for concealing its own losses is to spare themselves international embarrassment, which by now has become an exercise in futility, but also to wrap wool around the eyes of Russian people and to maintain an image of a strong and effective Russian military.
A more sinister motive was offered in an article by The Moscow Times, an independent Russian media outlet. In “‘Private Pivovarov is on Assignment’: How Russia Hides its Military Casualties”, which was published all the way back on April 6, the plight of families of soldiers who went missing in action is discussed. Without a formal recognition that they have been killed in combat, they are not entitled to any sort of monetary assistance. “Out of sight, out of mind” appears to be the attitude of the Russian Ministry of Defence when their own dead are concerned.
Anton Gerashchenko, the adviser to the Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs, commented on the Russian military command and policymakers' attitude towards their own fallen soldiers on social media:
Russia is still not picking up the bodies of its dead soldiers, which are in refrigerated cars near #Kyiv. There are more than 250 of them.— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) May 13, 2022
Honestly, I don't know how to comment on this#UkraineUnderAttack #UkraineRussianWar pic.twitter.com/M6h06j43qs