Ukrainian POWs in the separatist stronghold of Donetsk began a task Wednesday that strained their hearts as well as their muscles: digging through the rubble to retrieve the bodies of fellow soldiers killed last month in the bitter battle for the city’s airport.
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES
Associated Press journalists saw at least four bodies being carried out of the once-glittering, now-obliterated Donetsk airport terminal. A Ukrainian official said seven in all were retrieved. Rebel representatives said many more soldiers were still buried under the collapsed building, but provided no figures.
One captive soldier saw two friends being pulled out of the rubble, as the facility’s twisted steel beams and smashed cement walls were being sawn into pieces and towed away.
“I recognized them from their clothing. They were my friends,” said the man, a member of the Ukrainian army’s 90th brigade who identified himself only as Sasha.
The bodies themselves were contorted by rigor mortis after being left outside for weeks in the frigid winter. Work was briefly interrupted by the sounds of gunfire in the distance, then resumed.
“These guys were fighting here. I don’t know what for. They were following the orders of their president, and they respected that order,” said rebel commander Mikhail Tolstykh, known widely by nom de guerre Givi. “We all are military men here and we have to respect our enemy.” – Associated Press