These Ukrainian volunteers locate the bones of fallen troops and deliver them to their families.

In front of his Evacuation 200 vehicle is Oleg Repnoy. He explains, “My job is to go with these heroes on their last journey home.” Remove caption by Eleanor Beardsley for NPR

switch to caption NPR Eleanor Beardsley

In front of his Evacuation 200 vehicle is Oleg Repnoy. He explains, “My job is to go with these heroes on their last journey home.”

Eleanor Beardsley/NPR, Ukraine, DNIPRO Every day throughout the day, a scene plays out in front of a morgue in the city of Dnipro, in central-eastern Ukraine.

Large crosses, flowers, and coffin lids are carried out and leant against a wall. The coffins arrive next, occasionally revealing the dead soldier’s pale face inside. They are placed inside a ready van and the lids are fastened.

The journey of Oleg Repnoy starts here. He works as a volunteer for Evacuation 200, a group that sends the remains of fallen Ukrainian troops home to their families.

He explains, “My job is to go with these heroes on their last journey home.”

No one has been able to keep up with the number of casualties since violence started on February 24, he claims. In order to assist, a special volunteer unit was formed.

The former interior designer with the blue eyes has been traveling Ukraine with his priceless cargo for the past five months. The 55-year-old claims to feel like he is contributing to the struggle.

Coffin is carried by volunteers. Remove caption by Eleanor Beardsley for NPR
Eleanor Beardsley/NPR

toggle caption Coffin is carried by volunteers.

NPR/Eleanor Beardsley He explains, “My work is vital since I’m also handling all the paperwork and bureaucracy for families in bereavement, and they are appreciative. But for this work, you need to be in good mental health.

The precise number of Ukrainian casualties has been a closely guarded government secret, despite President Volodymir Zelenskyy’s claim that up to 200 soldiers could perish every day in the conflict with Russia. These kinds of operations provide a peek of the full cost.

Repnoy is holding a soldier’s paperwork when NPR first encounters him. 3,249 is its number. That many people have passed away in this morgue alone since February 24. In morgues all around the nation, this activity is currently underway.

Repnoy is departing for a little settlement farther from the front lines, several hours south of Dnipro. He is carrying two coffins containing recently discovered remains of troops who died in early May.

The cab of the van has no air conditioning. He rolls down the window and smokes when it is a scorching day. He claims that occasionally, bringing the young troops home makes him feel bad.

a Ukrainian sunflower field. Remove caption by Eleanor Beardsley for NPR

switch to caption NPR/Eleanor Beardsley “I once saw the body of a young man who had been born in 2002 while driving, and I remember thinking, “That young man is dead, and I’m much older than him and I’m living.” Such injustice, “He claims.

But he claims that whenever he shows up, the families are never ungrateful and are always appreciative of him.

The huge Ukrainian plains are seen as far as the eye can see from the road. Bright-yellow sunflowers are on one side and shimmering wheat fields are on the other.

Repnoy is humming while he considers the men he is carrying and the terrain he is traversing. He claims to have traveled far throughout his own country and believed he knew it intimately.

However, he continues, “I started bringing dead warriors, and I started thinking about how lovely our nation is.” I simply never thought I’d travel across my country visiting morgues.

The number 200 is printed in black on the side of his white van, which was formerly used to deliver flowers. Military slang for the transportation of deceased soldiers is used in the name of this operation, Evacuation 200.

When Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union and bodies of Soviet soldiers were returned from the Afghan War in the 1980s, the phrase first entered the public lexicon. Each body was believed to weigh roughly 200 kilograms (440 pounds) in its zinc casket.

People are aware of the goods Repnoy is transporting whenever he stops for gas. As she fills her tank, 44-year-old Olga Bereza scans the area. She claims, however, that she has no respect for the deceased.

“Really?” she inquires. “We only experience hate. We can currently only feel hatred because the war has invaded our country and our people are dying.”

Soldiers from the regiment are waiting to receive the coffins as Repnoy arrives at Apostolove. They prepare them for their future funerals by removing them one at a time from the vehicle together with the flags, flowers, and crosses.

Andriy Bilay, who worked for the Ukrainian railroad before serving in the military, is depicted in Vira Bilay’s photo. “Please refrain from fighting; it is heartbreaking. It hurts a lot. Avoid killing one another! “She sobs. Remove caption by Eleanor Beardsley for NPR

switch to caption NPR/Eleanor Beardsley Andriy Bilay, a 47-year-old native of Apostolove, is one of the fallen troops. Vira Bilay, his mother of 70 years, has been waiting for him.

She claims that on May 7 when Andriy informed her that he was going on a special operation, they spoke for the final time. She sobs as she talks about her son while removing a sizable photo of him from a plastic bag.

She recalls, “He worked for the railroad and everybody adored him.
According to Bilay, her son was indignant over the invasion and soon joined the front lines.
According to Bilay, there were also foreign soldiers stationed in the area who were fighting for Ukraine, and she looked after them.

“Despite the fact that they couldn’t speak Ukrainian, I brought them meals and used Google Translate. The foreign soldiers received borsch, pancakes, and handmade dumplings from me. However,” she sobs, “who looked after my son?”

When asked if she has anything to say to the world, she cries:
“Please refrain from fighting; it is heartbreaking. It hurts a lot. Avoid killing one another!”

Her community has a monument with a World War II tank and the inscription: “February 1944, to the soldiers of the Soviet army who were responsible for liberating Apostolove. from its appreciative people.”

There are no plans to remove the memorial, despite the fact that the locals no longer appreciate the Russian army.

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