Sergei, collector of corpses in Boutcha

By Remy Ourdan

Posted today at 11:00 a.m., updated at 11:13 a.m.

Sergueï Matuk’s van has not finished its macabre quest. Behind the windshield, a sign bears the inscription “Cargo 200”which means that the van is transporting corpses – “Cargo 300”is for the injured. Since the departure of the Russian army, Sergei and his two male comrades have been collecting the bodies of the dead in Boucha.

The town located in the Kyiv metropolitan area, northwest of the Ukrainian capital, was occupied by the Russian army from February 27, three days after the outbreak of war, at dawn on March 31, when the last soldiers from Moscow went north. But for the past five days, it has also been the city in the kyiv region where Ukrainian forces have discovered the highest number of civilians killed during the weeks of war.

Read also the editorial of “Le Monde”: Boucha, a turning point in the war in Ukraine

The towns of the northwest suburbs are ravaged. Irpine, Boutcha, Vorzel or Hostomel were at the heart of the battle for the conquest of the Ukrainian capital, which ended with a Russian defeat and an order to withdraw. For five weeks, from the attack on the Antonov airport in Hostomel on the first day of the war, February 24, until the “liberation” of the region announced on April 2 by the Ukrainian government, the fighting was intense.

Ravaged buildings

The most destroyed locality is undoubtedly Irpin, which was the first line of Ukrainian defense and which the Moscow army intensely bombarded. The Russian forces entered it on various occasions, to the point of having almost conquered it at the end of the first week of the war, before having to retreat each time, over the course of the Ukrainian counter-offensives, in the direction of Boutcha. Near the line of demarcation between the two cities, separated by a river, the buildings are devastated, gutted, calcined.

Boutcha holds for its part the sinister record, for the time being, of the number of deaths, according to the first observations of the Ukrainian government. If, in theory, from a strictly military point of view, these dead – or some of them – could have been victims of the artillery of the Ukrainian forces defending kyiv, since Boutcha constituted the Russian first line, it turns out that the majority of the victims were killed by the occupier.

The column of destroyed Russian armored vehicles on Vokzalna Street in Boutcha on April 4, 2022.
In the courtyard of one of the buildings of the Boutcha industrial complex, April 4, 2022.

Serguei Matuk had a front row seat since he spent the five weeks of the war collecting the bodies of the inhabitants of Boutcha. He confirms having collected, on behalf of the municipal services, “about 300 people” over time. According to the rescuer-turned-gravedigger, “about 240” of them buried by him in a common grave near the Saint-André church, the fighting not allowing access to the cemeteries. The others were either hastily buried in individual graves dug by the inhabitants themselves, or left to their fate until the end of the conflict. The mayor of Boutcha, Anatoly Fedorouk, for his part affirmed that“about 280 people were buried in mass graves”.

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