Ukraine’s push to prosecute Russian war crimes leaves a Kharkiv mother to bury her son twice

VILHIVKA, Ukraine — When Russian tanks rolled into this small village just outside Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-major metropolis, in March, Olga Kotenko pleaded with her son, Volodymyr, that it was as well risky to continue to keep delivering food stuff and medication to elderly people in the community.

As the shelling bought even worse, she turned exasperated with her 35-yr-aged son. She would shout and swear at him, although striving to physically block him from leaving the household they shared.

“He wouldn’t pay attention,” explained Olga, 68. “Sometimes, he would come property and say, ‘Mom, you just cannot envision the bombing we were beneath currently.’”

On March 15, she claimed, Volodymyr was driving house following assisting people today in the neighboring town of Malaya Rohan when his car was hit by fireplace from a Russian tank. She said a witness to the attack referred to as the Kotenkos to allow them know Russian troopers experienced killed Volodymyr.

Ukraine’s push to prosecute Russian war crimes leaves a Kharkiv mother to bury her son twice
Volodymyr Kotenko pictured in his 20s. His mom explained him as a “sort and faithful close friend.”Courtesy Olga Kotenko

It was not safe to depart the home because of to the battling, but Olga and her spouse, Vladimir, went to look for their son in any case. When they observed his charred car or truck, it didn’t look like anybody was inside of. “We considered that maybe an individual created a oversight, and he was nevertheless alive,” Olga explained.

But as they acquired nearer, the couple observed their son’s entire body experienced been seared into the driver’s seat. Some limbs experienced been blasted throughout the highway. Only a foot was nonetheless intact.

“We put him back alongside one another in pieces,” Olga reported.

By hand, they carried the bits of Volodymyr’s human body that they were being equipped to scrape out from the motor vehicle and walked 9 miles back again to their house. “I from time to time knocked on properties, inquiring for a bag or a wheelbarrow, but we could not discover anything,” she mentioned.

Back again at their property, the Kotenkos packaged Volodymyr’s body parts into white tarps, dug a grave in their again backyard and said goodbye to their son. They set a wood crate on prime of the grave to preserve the puppies from digging it up.

Olga explained she did not will need a prosecutor to explain to her that the killing of Volodymyr was a war crime. She reported that part was obvious to her. But when Ukrainian forces pushed Russian troops out from the area in early May well, liberating Vilhivka for the initially time in weeks, she saw an advertisement on tv encouraging men and women to appear forward with information and facts about Russian aggression. She assumed it was significant to report what transpired.

When Olga agreed to enable a team of war criminal offense investigators appear to her property last week, she didn’t realize that would signify digging up Volodymyr’s stays and taking them to a morgue in Kharkiv so that forensic analysts could obtain evidence.

“Can’t you convey to from him what occurred?” she explained by means of tears as investigators lifted the tarps from the hole in the floor, Volodymyr’s decaying stays leaking out by means of the seams. “That’s all that’s remaining of him,” she mentioned. “Please don’t just take my boy.”

She’d previously buried her son once. She didn’t want to do it once more.