The corpse of a Russian soldier, and the urge to be human but cold

HUSARIVKA, Ukraine – There’s a dead person in there.

He was charred black, almost like he had been welded to the inside of the Russian military vehicle when it exploded.

How long has this Russian soldier been on display? Long enough to be a monument in this tiny village of Husarivka, in eastern Ukraine, where some passers-by in the cold spring rain, knowing they are walking past a grave.

The Russians, at the time in April, had been out of the area for about two weeks, evidence of their retreat strewn across the roads and fields – interspersed with bullet-riddled civilian cars. and hastily dug graves in the backyard.

Two weeks is just long enough for the remaining 400 or so residents to examine exactly what has happened to them since the end of 2: war, occupation, battle to retake their village, their own losses , and the body was left inside the destroyed armored vehicle.

He was so badly burned that I couldn’t tell how old he was, but I guess he must be young because he was sitting in the troop compartment: the back of an armored troop carrier, where there were about a half dozen or so. ordinary people crouched holding their rifles. , wait for some older officer to tell them to get out and attack or defend.

It is possible he sat there listening to the sound of gunfire outside the thin armor of his vehicle, known as the BMP, which for a moment did exactly nothing to stop the projectile from launching as a whole. cans.

But two weeks later, he was still sitting, his last thoughts gone from his skull, cracked and wet from the rain.

Had he been a general, his troops might have tried to grab him, to pull him out of the wreck while it was on fire.

The Russians dumped the bodies of many of their soldiers, a surprising fact that made a common rule among fighters. Does it signal a disorder? Low morale? Or is it, in this case, something more personal?

Maybe if he was popular in the squad, the guy who picked you up from the bar at 4am without questioning they would have fought to put out the fire. Or at least get his body, so he can be buried under the familiar sky.

Or maybe it was so dire that by the time the survivors got to safety and looked around and realized, my god, he was missing, they knew nothing could be done. He’s still in there. Trapped.

I was looking at him, thinking about all this, trying to figure out if it was his rib cage, listening to the cannon in the distance and wondering if it was closer or further away. .

Husarivka was a lightning rod in the failed Russian offensive, leaving the dairy farm village, and another part, briefly occupied by Russian troops – and in response to Ukrainian shelling – until the Ukrainian troops entered at the end of March.

Presumably, that’s when the BMP was destroyed. Now the front line was only miles away, and there we were doing the same thing as the inhabitants of Husarivka: examining the wreckage and loss.

As has become a sad attribute in modern wars, there is a lot of statistical talk about casualties and killings in this war, as if violence has become routine and mechanical, fast. to the extent that the number of dead and wounded can be considered. more like sports scores.

To people in Russia and Ukraine, those anonymous numbers only glimpsed by the rest of the world are mothers, sons, friends. Their empty rooms will have to be repainted and furnished, or left undisturbed, awaiting a return that will never come.

And for those who actually lived through all this devastation and killing, the detritus of the battle took on its own appeal after the cease-fire and the sirens of the air raid had died down. . Inevitably, the scorched remains of destroyed tanks and other vehicles were surrounded by spectators wondering the fate of those doomed crews; try to piece the last moments together or stare at what people can do for each other.

The urge to stare at the unspoken parts of war reminds me of my second deployment as a Marine in southern Afghanistan in 2010, where there was a lot of killing and killing. deadly but not on a scale comparable to Ukraine.

An injured Taliban fighter – or someone the platoon says is a Taliban fighter – was brought to our outpost with about 50 people so he could be evacuated for treatment. Talib was shot up pretty badly, bandaged but still alive.

Everyone in the outpost wanted to see him. They stopped what they were doing, gathered around the stretcher and watched this man slowly die. Just to see it, to experience it. They walked beside him after the helicopter landed and saw him off then went back to their work.


Maybe it was some kind of consolation, a final reminder: He was on that stretcher, and they, in that moment, weren’t.

In Ukraine, twisted barrels of destroyed tanks and other Russian military vehicles were displayed in the capital, Kyiv, drawing crowds. Young and old may have been drawn there for many of the same reasons as my comrades in Afghanistan more than a decade ago, although the Ukrainians have the added vindication that comes with fighting an occupier. close – and the moral gap when it comes to our violence.

This wartime, wanting to look at the wreckage, the wounded and even the dead – feels almost inevitable, something you have to do to make sure it all really happens. . But I am not qualified to judge.

I was there a few weeks ago, staring at this dead Russian soldier in eastern Ukraine, looking at his grave with tangled piles of metal and bullet casings and the remains of his burned body. him, summoned by a simple statement.

There’s a dead guy in there.

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