The morgue in Kyiv, the capital city of Ukraine is already overwhelmed with dead bodies.
Dressed in full protective suits, the morticians lowered body bags from containers and rolled them inside the morgue, ready to identify each “John Doe.”
Each bag contains decomposed body wasted in the Ukrainian war.
“Of course it’s hard. This is not an ordinary job, it is a desire to help,” said Olena Tolkachova, chief of family service for the Azov Regiment.
Thousands of Ukrainians that have died in the war are unidentified. Family, friends, police, soldiers, morticians, and forensic experts are working tirelessly to identify the badly decomposed bodies so they can be properly laid to rest. In most cases, only DNA analysis can provide the answers needed.
Child Drawing Clue
The day CNN visited the morgue, 64 bodies arrived in Kyiv morgue. These bodies were retrieved from Azovstal Steel Plant, one of the firm last holdouts for Ukrainian defenders in the Port City of Mariupol, where fighters finally surrendered.
They were arrested by the Russian army but later traded with 56 dead Russian fighters, said Tolkachova.
The body of a 28 years old Ukrainian policeman, Daniil Safonov, who became popular by posting updates of the war on Twitter was also among the remains retrieved from Azovstal Steel Plant.
“Holding the line, but it is very difficult,” he posted on Twitter on April 3. “If I don’t write anymore, I’m sorry, we did all we could. Glory to Ukraine,” he wrote.
When Daniil’s sister, Olha Matsala examined her brother’s body, she couldn’t recognize him. She said, “There is nothing there to recognize. For a month and a half, his body laid in the heat.”
Some materials were tucked into the pocket of Daniil’s uniform, she was able to tell that the carcass body is her brother. A crayon drawing given to Daniil by his 6 years old son was found in his uniform. She continued by saying, “I pray to God every day that I will find him, the weight was unbearable; I feel calm now, I can finally bury him.”
DNA Samples Matched
This is carried out in the morgue by morticians. Samples of tissues are extracted from the dead body, but because of the extent of decomposition of the body, often pieces of bone are usually the only option.
The samples are delivered to a Kyiv laboratory, where analysts work to build DNA profiles.
“If the bone is disintegrated, we must make dozens of attempts to pull a DNA profile.
Sometimes, it can take months, but we never stop trying,” said Ruslan Abbasov, head of the DNA laboratory of the ministry of internal affairs.
“We work 24/7 to help Ukrainians find their loved ones. We hope that we will be able to name each victim, identify every serviceman, and bury them with dignity.”
Forensic experts use special software to find a match to the remains by comparing the unidentified body to a government database.
“The more profiles we have statistically, the more matches we have.” It is obvious we don’t have enough DNA from relatives of the missing persons,” said Stanislav Martynenko, chief forensic expert.
“It will take wars after the war ends to find all the unidentified human bodies.”
According to Abbasov, out of 700 unidentified bodies, only 200 have been matched to families.
Martynenko who is responsible for some of the identified bodies said, “When I make a match, I feel like I’ve done my job, and inform everyone about this match starting with the police.”
A hotline has been created by the government authorities, for families to report missing persons, and give a DNA sample at a local police station. About 1000 people have come forward to report since late February.
“Some bodies are so damaged it is impossible to extract DNA,” Tolkachova, of Azov regiment, explained while tearing up.
“We have parents who tell us; ‘ I understand you can’t find my child, but at least bring me something of the dirt they walked on from Mariupol to bury.”
This is a touching moment for a lot of parents, as some of them will never see their kids, or find their bodies to bury, this is the agony of most Ukrainian parents.