Seeking Full Respect, Some Ukrainian Families Wait to Bury Their Dead

The remains of Dmytro Gubariev have been in his room for 10 months, unmoved. It is the time his mother has been waiting to bury his ashes.

His mother, Iryna Gubarieva, 52, is determined to ensure her son, who died defending the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, is laid to rest as a hero in the long-promised National Military Memorial Cemetery – and says she knows many other families are doing the same.

“We go to the funerals of his friends who are known, and mostly everyone remains unburied,” said Ms. Gubarieva, her voice begins to waver. “Families are waiting for this cemetery.”

Thousands of families have buried fallen soldiers in common graves across Ukraine, graves, decorated with tributes, creating “Alleys of Heroes.” But Ms. Gubarieva and others in similar situations say that’s not all those pages are filling up after 17 months of war but the only similar memorial at the United States military cemetery Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington is to be dedicated to their loved ones.

“To protect our country Ukraine, they are committing atrocities, they are dying,” said Ms. Gubarieva, digging a nail into her hand. “We want it to be a fitting memorial.”

Plans for the Ukrainian version of Arlington have it he was at work for more than ten years. In May 2022, about three months after the war began, the Parliament of Ukraine he adopted the law which gave a National Military Memorial Cemetery. Last March, the government he said that a place has been chosen – 20 acres forest in Kyiv outside – but construction has not yet begun.

Families like Mrs. Gubarieva have attended meetings, written letters and protested. They say that promises were made and that delay makes grief difficult.

“It’s very difficult, because the ceremony was not completed as it should be,” said Ms. Gubarieva.

Ukraine’s Minister of Veterans Affairs, Yulia Laputina, said in a press release that the pace of construction depends on resolving the land allocation issue. He didn’t say much, but said he and his colleagues are “in regular contact with the families of fallen heroes and understand their needs” and “will do whatever is necessary to fulfill this mission.”

It is impossible to know how many families are questioning their funerals with the respect they believe a national cemetery can provide; recent demonstrations in Kyiv he drew about a dozen people. But their grief shows the difficulty of remembering the soldiers who were killed in a war whose history was not recorded.

Dmytro Gubariev was killed on April 15, 2022, in Mariupol, where he was fighting with the Ukrainian Azov group.

“We didn’t know if we could take his body at all,” said his mother on a recent afternoon. “It was a very long way. There were exchanges of bodies.”

It wasn’t until late last August that his body was discovered. The family then cremated his body in order to bury him in a military cemetery. They couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him in the morgue, Ms. Gubarieva said, so they brought his ashes home.

A black urn sits on a shelf in his bedroom, along with some of his books, cologne and a flag dedicated to President Volodymyr Zelensky. One night, Mrs. Gubarieva crawls into the twin bed on the floor where her son sleeps, resting her head on the cat’s pillow.

September will be one year of her son’s ashes waiting to be buried, Mrs. Gubarieva said.

“This is not natural,” he lamented, lamenting the lack of a grave for his loved ones to go to.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense is undoubtedly overstretched, struggling to rehabilitate hundreds of thousands of veterans – all the while the ranks are growing.

And Arlington, who promoted the Ukrainian mission, also had it basic problems: First created during the Civil War, more to deal with overcrowding in existing cemeteries than as a special commemorative place for August.

This is very encouraging for Viktoria Krasovska, who sometimes carries her husband’s body in a bag to her mother’s house, and places it on the dresser that has become a small shrine.

“He already promised,” he said. “Let them fulfill their promise just once.”

Hiding her husband, Vitaly Krasovskyin the graves of ordinary people can not be disrespectful, Mrs. Krasovska said – there is also a question of space.

“Every day our soldiers are killed, and we don’t know where to bury them because everything is already full,” he said.

The Ukrainian military has not released casualty figures from the conflict. Pentagon documents taken down it is estimated that up to 17,500 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in action since February. Fighting has been ongoing since Kyiv launched an offensive last month to retake territory seized by Russia, a campaign that has since ended. he was seriously injured.

Interment at the National Military Memorial Cemetery designed to hold 50,000 dead they may send a worrying message about losing the never-ending war.

But Ms. Krasovska scoffed at that idea, saying the damage was already obvious.

“Anyone who lives in the city or the countryside sees graves with military flags everywhere,” he said, adding, “Just look at the flags on Independence Square” in Kyiv.

Mrs. Krasovska said she understood that the Ukrainian authorities had other priorities – but that was not why the grave could not be addressed immediately.

“Why not do this the same way?” he asked. “Besides, the war continues and will continue for who knows how many years.” Why don’t you do something now so that the families of the fallen soldiers and soldiers are properly honored and buried?”

For him and Ms. Gubarieva, it comes down to promises made, and honoring the fallen.

Vitaliy was already a soldier when they met, through a classmate.

“It was love at first sight,” said Ms. Krasovska, enjoying the memories. “I felt something – fire,” he added, shaking his chest.

They were legally married on Oct. 10, 2021, and her husband returned to his station with the Azov Regiment in Mariupol three days later. They had planned to celebrate last summer, but the full-scale invasion of Russia on Feb. 24 last year disrupted their plans.

Within a week, it was clear that Mariupol was in trouble, said Ms. Krasovska. The city was being bombed every day.

Her husband would go up on the roof to answer the phone, and it would take 40 seconds for everyone to make a call. But on March 18, he spoke for five minutes; Ms. Krasovska said she was scared.

He said: “I tried to support him, don’t cry.” “I asked him if he would promise to come back.” He said he can’t promise, but he will do everything he can.”

Two days later, he was killed. It took three months for his body to come back through the body swap; Mrs. Krasovska recognized them by one of her husband’s eight signs, a skull on his leg.

He said: “There was nothing to bury, so we burned it.”

She also agreed with Mrs. Gubarieva saying that her husband and his fellow soldiers from Azov discussed their wishes: “They wanted to be buried together, as they did.”

The National Military Memorial Cemetery offers this, including a place to display and visit. What is also important, he said, is that it will help protect their heritage.

“We have to bury our soldiers in the right way to remember them, because they gave the most important thing they have, their lives,” said Ms. Krasovska when his voice began to catch. He sighed and swallowed deeply.

He said the delay around the cemetery was frustrating but insisted on waiting.

“We have to do this for them,” he added. “We should not sit down and cry. We have to get what they deserve. “

Anna Lukinova contributed reports.

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