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Burying and remembering those lost in a Ukrainian city attacked by the Russians

Stories of civilians killed in Bucha, Ukraine
"Could humans really do this?": Stories of civilians killed in Bucha, Ukraine | 60 Minutes 13:31

At St. Andrew's Church in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, days before Orthodox Easter, 116 bodies were removed from a mass grave. Bucha excavated the trench to rebury each victim with respect and with their name. Photos of the dead were posted online; DNA was taken and families grieved as they confirmed the fate of the missing.

Bucha, 20 miles from Kyiv, was a modern suburb of 37,000, with big box stores and apartment blocks. But over 27 days in March, its people suffered a distinct kind of cruelty – the cruelty inflicted by soldiers facing defeat. 458 were killed. Serhii Kaplychnyi, the Bucha city official in charge of burials, said the Russians left bodies where they fell: in their homes and in the street.

"We understood that they must be buried, but we didn't know how to go about it," Kaplychnyi told 60 Minutes.

Kaplychnyi had to negotiate with the Russians for permission to gather the bodies. Scott Pelley spoke with Kaplychnyi and two men who worked with him, Serhii Matiuk and Vladyslav Minchenko. 

Serhii Kaplychnyi, Serhii Matiuk and Vladyslav Minchenko

"I imagine that a mass grave was the last thing that you wanted," Pelley told them. "Why was it necessary?"

"There was no more room in the morgue," Matiuk answered.

"We were just placing bodies near the morgue because we had no idea what to do anymore," Kaplychnyi said.

"Serhii," Pelley asked, "where were you finding bodies around town and what kind of condition were they in?"

"With a lot of the bodies," Kaplychnyi said, "it was obvious it was the work of a sniper because they were shot in the head."

"Some were riding their bicycle," Matiuk said. "Some were bringing firewood in their car, loaded in their car… remember, we picked up that man and woman? They had just loaded firewood into their car and were bringing it back to heat their home. They were shot."

"Was it possible for you to determine how these people had been killed?" Pelley asked.

"Most often they shot people in the back," Minchenko said. "Those who were killed walking down the road – they were shot in the back. The [people] we gathered from the basements – they were all shot in the back. People were on their knees, blindfolded."

"The people who were tied up, they were tortured," Matiuk added. "They were shot… first in a leg or arm, and then the finishing shot was to the head"

The Russians were killing too many too fast. There was no electricity for refrigeration. A temporary mass grave was inevitable. Kaplychnyi felt his only choice in the matter was to dig it in the shadow of St. Andrew's. 

"None of them deserved to die this way," Minchenko told Pelley. "God sees everything. Because of the way they died, their deaths…these people will never be forgotten. Their names, their faces. Let people remember and know that this was done by Russia. For what? For nothing."

  Oleksandr Chikmariov

Of all the bereaved who met Pelley at St. Andrew's, it seemed no one lost more than Oleksandr Chikmariov.

"[They were] my happiness," Chikmariov said, "[They were] my everything. I wish I could bring everything back."

Chikmariov and his wife, Rita, tried to flee the shelling of Bucha in their car with their sons, 9-year-old Matviy and 4-year-old Klym. While on the road, they came across a Russian armored vehicle. 

"We stopped. Rita yelled for me to make a U-turn and drive back," Chikmariov told Pelley. "I heard shots. I turned to the back seat, and Rita shouted '[I'm hit!]' Rita and my children were dead. I was in such shock, I didn't notice that my leg was only hanging on by a piece of skin. I didn't even feel the pain. I got down behind the car, then the car burst into flames."

Chikmariov was rescued by firemen and watched his family burn.

He led Pelley, on his new artificial leg, across the street from St. Andrew's. Their home happened to be next to the makeshift cemetery where his family was first laid to rest.

"What would you like the world to remember about them?" Pelley asked.

"For the world to remember, well, so much joy. Such a thirst for life," Chikmariov said. "Why did he have to die? For what? It doesn't make any sense. Why? It doesn't make sense, in any world, to kill them. Why? What was he killed for? How can I go on living? Just to keep crying, and keep breathing? What should I do? What else can I do? He's not here anymore, I cannot hug him, I cannot kiss him, I cannot do anything. They were the meaning of my life. How can I live with this? How? Just hold on and endure? To just endure, to fight everything inside of myself? What should I do next? I don't know how to live."

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