MYKULYCHI, Ukraine (AP) — This is not where Nadiya Trubchaninova thought she would end up at 70, hitchhiking daily from her village to the shattered city of Bucha trying to bring her son’s body home for burial.
The questions tire her, heavy as the winter coat and the boots she still wears against the cold. Why had Vadym gone to Bucha, where the Russians were so much tougher than those who occupied their village? Who shot him as he drove down Yablunska Street, where so many bodies were found? And why did she lose her son just a day before the Russians withdrew?
Now Vadym, 48, is in a black bag in a refrigerated truck. After learning that he had been found and buried by strangers in a yard in Bucha, she spent over a week trying to bring him home to a proper grave. But he is one body among hundreds, part of a war crimes investigation that has taken on global significance.
Trubchaninova is one of many older people left behind or choosing to stay as millions of Ukrainians have fled across borders or to other parts of the country. They were the first to be seen on empty streets after Russians withdrew from communities around the capital, kyiv, peering through wooden doors or bringing bags of donated food back from frozen houses.
Some, like Trubchaninova, survived the worst of the war to find she had taken their children.
She last saw her son on March 30. She thought he was walking around as part of his long recovery from a stroke. “It would be crazy to go any further,” she said. She wonders if he went to get a phone connection to call his own son and wish him a happy birthday.
She wonders if Vadym thought the Russians in Bucha were like those who occupied their village, who told them they wouldn’t be hurt if they didn’t fight back.
More than a week later, she found her makeshift grave with the help of a stranger with the same name and age as her son. The next day, she spotted the body bag containing Vadym in a cemetery in Bucha. He was still tall and his foot was sticking out of a hole in the corner. Anxious not to lose it, she found a scarf and tied it. It is his mark.
She believes she knows where her son’s body is now, in a refrigerated truck outside Bucha’s morgue. She desperately seeks an official to expedite the process of inspecting her son and issuing the necessary paperwork to release him.
“I worry, where he would go and if I could find him,” she said.
Once she gets her body back, she’ll need a coffin. A coffin is equivalent to one month of his pension, or about $90. She, like other elderly Ukrainians, has not received her pension since the start of the war. She earns by selling the vegetables she grows, but the potatoes she planned to plant in March withered while she was hiding in her home.
His aging cell phone keeps losing battery power. She forgets her phone number. Her other son, two years younger than Vadym, is unemployed and struggling. Nothing is easy.
“I would get out of this place because I think it’s so hard to be here,” said Trubchaninova, sitting at home under a tinted black-and-white photo of herself at 32, full of determination. .
She remembers watching her television, when it was still working, at the start of the war, when the broadcasts showed so many Ukrainians on the run. She worried about them. Where are they going? Where are they going to sleep? What are they going to eat? How are they going to rebuild their lives?
“I felt so sorry for them,” she said. “And now I’m in this situation. I feel so lost inside. I don’t even know how to describe how lost I am. I’m not even sure I’ll put my head on this pillow tonight and wake up tomorrow.
Like many Ukrainians her age, she worked without taking time for herself, determined to give her children an education and a better life than her own. “It was my plans,” she said, agitated. “What plans do you want me to have now?” How can I make new plans if one of my sons is lying there in Bucha? »
The cemetery where she wants to place her son can be seen from Vadym’s old bedroom, where her walking sticks are still leaning against the door.
On Thursday, she again waited outside Bucha’s morgue. After another long day with no progress, she sat down on a bench in the sun. “I just wanted to sit in good weather,” she said. “I’m going home. Tomorrow I’ll be back.
On the other side of town, there was the kind of closure that Trubchaninova wanted so badly. At a cemetery, two 82-year-old women stood up from a bench and crossed themselves when the now familiar white van arrived with another coffin.
The women, Neonyla and Helena, sing at the funeral. They have played 10 since the Russians pulled out. “The biggest pain for a mother is losing her son,” Neonyla said. “There are no words to describe it.”
Like Troubchaninova, they had not fled before the Russians. This is our land, they said.
They joined the priest at the foot of the tomb. Two men with handfuls of tulips were present, as well as a man with a cap in his hand. “That’s it,” a gravedigger said when the exhausted-looking priest had finished.
Another man with a gold ink pen wrote basic details on a temporary cross. It was for a woman who had been killed by a bombing while she was cooking outside. She was 69 years old.
A row of empty graves waited.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine