Confirming the Burnt Bodies…Lamentations of a Ukrainian Military Official Searching for His Missing Son
Nonfiction writer Takehide Mizutani's on-site report on the "Ukrainian War
Kostiantin Kazimir, 50, a Ukrainian military officer, has the following message on his phone, which he exchanged with his son, Oleksiy, 20.
‘How are you doing?’ (Ms. Koschantin)
Yes, I’m fine” (Oleksy)
“Are you hungry?” (Mr. Costantin)
No problem at all. I’m not hungry at all.
Thank you for your answer.” (Mr. Koschantin)
The date was after 7:00 p.m. on March 3.
On the morning of the following day, the 4th, Mr. Koschantin asked, “How are you?” but the message was not read. 8 days later, the same thing happened, and he has not sent any more messages since then.
He knew that Oleksy, who had been living alone since February 24, when the Russian army fully invaded Ukraine, was at a friend’s house, but he had not told her where exactly he was or what he was doing. We continued to check on his safety through messages, but after March 3, we lost contact with him. Since he himself is a senior officer in the Ukrainian military, he refrained from calling to avoid wiretapping by the Russian military.
Later, one of his relatives informed us that Mr. Oleksy was a member of the Regional Defense Forces, and we became concerned at once. The Regional Defense Forces is an organization composed of civilians under the umbrella of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense. In other words, the possibility that he had taken up arms and was fighting emerged.
Oleksy is the son of a Ukrainian ex-wife living in Tokyo. A senior at the prestigious Kiev State University, Kostiantin recalls that after graduation he wondered whether to go on to graduate school.
He had never heard his son talk about serving in the regional defense forces since the war began. Maybe he didn’t want his parents to worry.”
Since the outbreak of the war, a number of young people and students in Ukraine have volunteered to join the regional defense forces “for the good of the country,” but many men, in particular, do not tell their parents about it, and Oleksiy was one of them.
Costantin sent Olexy’s photo to all possible contacts, including relatives, military comrades, acquaintances, and others, asking for their cooperation in the search.
We learned there that my son was with a friend in a Japanese-made one-box car,” he said. We also learned from the cell phone records that he was near a village called Mila, near Keau.
The village of Mira is located about 30 kilometers west of the center of Kieu, close to the massacre towns of Bucha and Irpin, which were occupied by the Russian army. Further information led us to a photograph.
It showed two charred bodies lying on the side of a rain-slicked road, one on its back and the other face down, with a sheet over the body next to it. A burnt-out one-box car was parked beside them.
The scene was broadcast by the BBC. It was believed to have been shelled by Russian troops. The possibility that the car was Olexy’s emerged because it was similar to the car in which Olexy was driving and because the scene was close to the village of Mira.
Mr. Koschantin visited four morgues in the suburbs of Kieu. He showed photographs of the crime scene to the doctors who responded to his inquiries, and asked them to check for similar burned bodies.
We saw about 20 bodies in all,” he said. We would open the containment bags and check them. At the morgue in Bucha, I was told, ‘There are no burnt bodies,’ but I opened the holding bag as if I was grasping at straws. Maybe not, but I was desperate anyway. I couldn’t bear to look for my son among the rows of bodies, so I continued taking tranquilizers.”
Mr. Oleksy has a double tooth on the right side of his front tooth. Since teeth are likely to remain even in a burnt corpse, we checked based on that feature as well, but could not find them.
The turning point was a phone call from investigators in mid-April. They said they had found a body that looked like Oleksy’s, so I rushed to the national military facility in Kieu.
I was shown the three bodies first, but I almost collapsed in front of the burned bodies that no longer had any human form and the strange smell. I couldn’t look directly at them, so I asked my wife, who was accompanying me, to check them out.
I saw the last body with my wife.
The body was also dark black, with a few strands of hair remaining. It looked like my son. But I want to believe it was not my son, because I heard that his name is not on the list of victims taken hostage by the Russian military.
A DNA test was recommended on the spot, and I provided a sample.
The results were not yet available, but at the request of the relatives, a funeral service was held on April 26.
Ms. Kostantin sighed heavily and strained her voice.
‘My son was a kind and sociable man. He had many friends, was tall, and was popular with women. When I think of my son, I immediately burst into tears. It’s too hard to bear.”
He spoke in a tone of hushed anger toward the Russian military.
In war, it is inevitable that armies kill each other. But the Russian army, which kills civilians, is absolutely unforgivable. I have nothing but hatred for them.
According to the Keau State Police, about 1,150 bodies have been found so far in the suburbs of Keau, and about 300 of them remain unidentified.
Interview, text, and photographs： Takehide Mizutani