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From DNA samples to children’s drawings. How Ukraine is trying to identify some of those lost in war


Dressed in full protecting fits and masks they decrease physique luggage, one after the other, onto gurneys and roll them inside. Investigators stand again, clipboards in hand, ready to start out their grueling work.

Inside every bag is a “John Doe,” an individual whose stays have been left within the ruins of warfare for weeks and are so badly decomposed that they’re unrecognizable.

“Of course, it’s hard. But this is not an ordinary job. It is a desire to help,” mentioned Olena Tolkachova, chief of household providers for the Azov Regiment.

Thousands of Ukraine’s warfare lifeless are unidentified. Police, troopers, investigators, morticians and forensic consultants — determined to return stays to family members — are working tirelessly to seek out out who they’re, so their our bodies might be laid correctly to relaxation.

In most instances, solely DNA evaluation can present the solutions wanted.

Child’s drawing clue

The 64 our bodies that arrived the day CNN visited the morgue had been retrieved from the Azovstal metal plant, one of many final holdouts for Ukrainian defenders within the port metropolis of Mariupol, the place fighters lastly surrendered in mid-May.

They had been handed over by Russian forces in change for 56 of their very own lifeless fighters, Tolkachova mentioned.

The physique of Daniil Safonov, a 28-year-old Ukrainian policeman who grew to become common on social media for posting updates from the frontlines, was believed to be among the many stays recovered from Azovstal.

“Holding the line, but it’s very difficult,” he posted on Twitter on April 3. “If I don’t write any more, I’m sorry, we did everything we could. Glory to Ukraine!”

But when Olha Matsala, Safonov’s sister, examined what had been regarded as his stays on the Kyiv morgue, she says she couldn’t distinguish any of his options. Safonov is believed to have been killed in a mortar assault in early May; his physique had lain within the warmth for nearly six weeks.

“He was an extremely good man. He gave his life for Ukraine. He told me he accepted he may never return from Mariupol, and I feared that’s what happened,” Matsala mentioned.

But tucked into the pocket of Safonov’s uniform was the proof wanted to determine him: Two small crayon drawings from his 6-year-old son, considered one of a Christmas tree, the opposite of a rain cloud, one way or the other nonetheless intact.

Olha Matsala's brother Daniil was identified from two crayon drawings, made by his son, found in the pocket of his uniform.

“This makes it easier,” Matsala mentioned, crying. “Now, I can bury him, and I will be calmer knowing his grave is nearby. I was waiting for him.”

Her reduction is uncommon. In almost each case, the one hope for identification is thru DNA evaluation, nevertheless it’s a prolonged and sophisticated job.

DNA samples matched

The course of begins contained in the morgue, the place morticians extract tissue samples from the lifeless. Because of the our bodies’ superior states of decomposition, typically a chunk of bone is the one possibility.

The samples are delivered to a Kyiv laboratory, the place analysts work to construct DNA profiles.

Analysts process DNA samples at the Ministry of Internal Affairs' laboratory in Kyiv, Ukraine.

“If the bone is disintegrating, we must make dozens of attempts to pull a DNA profile. Sometimes it can take months, but we never stop trying,” mentioned Ruslan Abbasov, the top 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 to bury them with dignity.”

Using particular software program, a forensic knowledgeable then tries to discover a match to the stays by evaluating the John Doe’s DNA to a authorities database of 1000’s of individuals looking for their family members.

“The more profiles we have, statistically, the more matches we make. It’s obvious we don’t have enough DNA from relatives of the missing persons,” mentioned Stanislav Martynenko, chief forensic knowledgeable on the lab.

“It will take years after the war ends to find all the unidentified human bodies.”

Of the 700 unidentified our bodies up to now catalogued, 200 have been matched to a household up to now, in line with Abbasov.

Martynenko is behind lots of these identifications. “When I make a match, I feel like I’ve done my job,” he instructed CNN. “And I need to inform everyone about this match starting with the police.”

Analysts at the Ministry of Internal Affairs' laboratory in Kyiv process DNA samples.

To widen the federal government database, authorities have arrange a hotline for households to report a lacking individual and prepare to provide a DNA pattern at a neighborhood police station. About 1,000 individuals have come ahead to take action since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February.

But a few of these misplaced to this warfare will possible by no means be returned to their households.

“Some bodies are so damaged it is impossible to extract DNA,” Tolkachova, of the Azov Regiment, defined by way of tears. “We have parents who tell us: ‘I understand you cannot find my child, but at least bring me some of the dirt they walked on from Mariupol to bury.'”

Her voice conveys the agony felt by those that won’t ever know the destiny of their cherished one, by no means obtain a physique to bury, and maybe by no means discover closure.

That’s the result that Ukraine’s forensic consultants are working so exhausting to keep away from. But with extra stays arriving day-to-day, and the warfare grinding on in Ukraine’s east and south, the duty is daunting.



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