Buried as numbers, more of Ukraine’s victims are laid to rest
A priest prays for unidentified civilians killed by Russian troops during Russian occupation in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. Eleven unidentified bodies exhumed from a mass grave were buried in Bucha Thursday (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

BUCHA, UKRAINE (AP) — With graves marked only with numbers, not names, burial services were held Thursday for 11 more unidentified bodies found in Bucha, the town outside the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv that saw hundreds of people slaughtered under Russian occupation early in the war.

Under a grim gray sky, the two women and eight men were buried following their discovery in a mass grave near the town's Church of Andrew the Apostle, in the wake of the Russian withdrawal in late March. The 11th victim had been shot dead and was found in the village of Chervone, 17 kilometres (10 miles) further outside the Ukrainian capital. Another man who was shot dead but who was identified was also buried Thursday at the same cemetery.

The civilian killings at Bucha have become a symbol of brutality of the war. They were carried out as Russia launched a failed effort to capture the Ukrainian capital after it invaded the country on February 24.

Wrapped in plastic, the bodies arrived in a refrigerator truck, were placed in wooden caskets and then buried separately.

"We are praying for the souls of those killed unjustly," said Father Andriy, an Orthodox priest who led Thursday's service near the site where the mass grave was found. "God knows their names."

It was a second such funeral of unidentified bodies in Bucha, after an August 9 service in which 15 people were buried.

Municipal authorities say 458 bodies have been found in the Bucha area after the 33-day Russian occupation. They include 12 bodies of children, in most cases killed with their parents.

Authorities said 116 bodies were found in the mass grave near the Church of Andrew the Apostle.

The process of identification began in April at several morgues in Kyiv region. The bodies are buried one month after the autopsy, remaining unidentified if relatives cannot be found to formally name them.

Oleksandr Khmaruk, 37, was originally listed as a number, as his parents at first were unable to find his body due to a bureaucratic mix-up. Khmaruk, who served in the Ukrainian armed forces in 2014-15, is believed to have been dragged from his home and shot at a checkpoint by Russian soldiers.

He was one of the 458 dead in Bucha after the Russian occupation and was found in the same mass grave as the 10 unnamed bodies that were buried Thursday. His family also buried him Thursday at the same cemetery.

"We are working with a list of approximately 50 bodies that remain unidentified," said Mykhailyna Skoryk-Shkarivska, the deputy mayor of Bucha, adding that the number can change as more family members are found.

"We hope these numbers will change into names," she said.

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