This was not where Nadia Trubchaninova thought she would find herself in her seventies, commuting daily from her village to the wrecked town of Bucha in an attempt to bring home her son’s body for burial.
Questions wear her down, heavy as a winter coat and shoes she still wears against the cold. Why did Vadim go to clamorWhere were the Russians much tougher than those who occupied their village? Who shot him while he was driving on Yablonska Street, where many bodies were found? And why did she lose her son just one day before the Russians withdrew?
Now 48-year-old Vadim is in a black bag in a refrigerated truck. Having received news that strangers had found and buried him in a yard in Posha, she spent more than a week trying to bring him home for a proper grave. But he is one person among hundreds, and is part of a war crimes investigation that has grown to acquire global significance.
Trubchaninova is among the many elderly people left behind or choosing to stay as millions of Ukrainians have fled across the border or to other parts of the country. They were first seen on the empty streets after the Russians withdrew from the communities around the capital Kyiv, peering through the wooden gates or carrying bags of donated food into their frozen homes.
Some, like Trubchaninova, survived the worst of the war only to find that she had taken their children.
She last saw her son on March 30. I thought he was walking as part of his long stroke recovery. “It would be crazy to go further,” she said. She wonders if he went by car to find a cell phone connection to call his son and wish him a happy birthday.
She wonders if Vadim thinks that the Russians in Bucha are like those occupying their village, who told them that they would not be harmed if they did not resist.
More than a week later, she found his temporary grave with the help of a stranger with the same name and age as her son. The next day, I spotted a body bag containing Vadim at the Bosha cemetery. He always stood tall, his foot sticking out of a hole in the corner. Careful not to lose it, I found a scarf and tied it there. It’s her mark.
She thinks she knows where her son’s body is now, in a refrigerator truck outside Bucha’s mortuary. She urgently needs to find an official to expedite the process of searching her son and issuing the documents necessary for his release.
“I worry, where he’s going, and whether I’ll be able to find him,” she said.
Once you collect his body, you’ll need a coffin. The casket equals her monthly pension, or about $90. She, like other elderly Ukrainians, has not received her pension since the start of the war. She gets by selling the vegetables she grows, but the potatoes she intended to plant in March wilt while she’s hiding in her house.
Her aging mobile phone continues to lose battery life. Forgot her phone number. Her other son, two years younger than Vadim, is unemployed and restless. Nothing is easy.
“I was going to get out of this place because I feel like it’s so hard to be here,” Trubchaninova said, sitting at home under a color black and white photo of her 32-year-old.
Ukraine claims the missile strike caused the sinking of Putin’s warship
She remembered that she was watching her television, when he was still working, in the early days of the war, as the radios showed many Ukrainians fleeing. She was worried about them. Where are they going? Where will they sleep? What will they eat? How will they remake their lives again?
“I felt so sorry for them,” she said. “And now, I’m in this situation. I feel lost inside. I don’t even know how to describe how lost I am. I’m not even sure I’m going to put my head on this pillow tonight and wake up tomorrow.”
Like many Ukrainians of her age, she worked without taking time for herself, determined to provide an education and a better life for her children than her own. “Those were my plans,” she said angrily. “What plans do you want me to have now? How do I make new plans if one of my sons is lying there in Bucha?”
The cemetery in which she wants to put her son can be seen from Vadim’s old room, where his stick is still attached to the door.
On Thursday, I waited again outside the Butcha Morgue. After another long day without progress, I sat on a bench in the sun. “I just wanted to sit in nice weather,” she said. “I am going home. Tomorrow I will be back again.”
Across town was the kind of closure that Trubchaninova desperately wanted. In a cemetery, two 82-year-old women rose from a seat and past themselves when the now familiar white van arrived carrying another coffin.
The two women, Nyonella and Helena, sing at funerals. They’ve performed at 10 since the Russians withdrew. “A mother’s biggest pain is losing her son,” Nyonella said. “There is no word to describe it.”
Like Trubchaninova, they did not flee before the Russians. They said this is our land.
Russia vows more strikes on Kyiv after missile factory bombing
Join the priest at the foot of the tomb. Two men attended holding a bunch of tulips, with a man holding a hat in his hand. “That’s it,” said the gravedigger as the exhausted priest finished.
Another man wrote in gold ink the essential details on a makeshift cross. It was of a woman who was killed by the bombing while she was cooking outside. She was 69 years old.
There was a row of empty tombs waiting.