Ukraine collects bodies of Russian soldiers abandoned on the “highway of death” after retaking towns in the southeast

Wearing masks, Ukrainian soldiers hammer sticks into the undergrowth along a deserted country road, in search of corpses of Russian soldiers which they hoped to exchange for their own comrades, living and dead.

They called her the “highway of death” by the number of Russian soldiers who died there when Ukrainian forces retook the village of Blahodatnein the southeast of the country, at the beginning of its counteroffensive in June.

Three months later, the front line had moved south and It was finally safe enough for the team of three Ukrainian soldiers to begin their operation. in this liberated part of the Donetsk region.

“We’re going to search along the forest path,” said Volodymyr, a 50-year-old Marine, as artillery fire boomed in the distance. “Search with your eyes. And using your sense of smell.”

Burial bags with the bodies of Russian soldiers (Reuters) (STRINGER/)
The bodies are found in the wooded areas near the road (Reuters)
The bodies are found in the wooded areas near the road (Reuters) (STRINGER/)

The road was dotted with gutted vehicles and destroyed buildings. At one point, they used a rope to pull up a body to make sure it had not been a booby trap set by retreating Russian forces.

This is what we do. We collect their bodies. We organize exchanges for our prisoners who are alive. And for bodies. Our boys”said Vasylii, a 53-year-old volunteer. “So that a mother can go visit the cemetery”.

Russia and Ukraine have carried out regular exchanges of prisoners of war, as well as the bodies of dead soldiers, since the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

The group recovered nine bodies in their day-long search Friday. Each was loaded into the back of a truck and taken for forensic examination, which tests DNA and attempts to match the data with a Russian base through the Red Cross.

The details can help identify the bodies (Reuters)
The details may help identify the bodies (Reuters) (STRINGER/)

“On top of the body we place the patch with the callsign and any other identification. It is easier to exchange a person identified by our soldiers,” he explained.

Volodymyr said that Russian forces had been forced to quickly withdraw from Blahodatne and that the only other exit route had been unusable because it was heavily mined.

“There was probably an exchange of gunfire. Maybe they tried to defend themselves, but the retreat was very quick,” he said.

They left the wounded and dead along the way and escaped to Urozhaine. But they did not stay long in Urozhaine either. There was intense fighting for Urozhaine,” he said, referring to a nearby town that was later retaken.

“This road from Blahodatne became their road of death. They had mined the way back. And when they tried to flee from Blahodatne to Urozhaine, this is where they ended up stranded,” he added.

(With information from Reuters)