in Kherson, the hope of making the bodies speak

Tuesday, December 6, on a small height on the borders of the Kherson region, in southern Ukraine, a cemetery surrounded by a small concrete wall, frozen by the cold and the wind, seems to have been forgotten by time. . In the snow-covered countryside, war echoes in the distance with the sound of Russian rocket launchers aiming for Ukrainian territory. But, that day, in this place, another fight is being played out, that of the right. A deputy Kherson prosecutor, Dmitro Chechenko, a medical examiner, Igor Motritch, four policemen and two members of the territorial defense exhume two bodies as part of an investigation into the death, March 5, of ‘Anna Manzirokha, 38, and her cousin Gennady Vengrenovski, 52. Enough to document future prosecutions against Russia for war crimes.

Police officers take part in the exhumation of the body of Gennady Vengrenovsky in the Nova Zorya cemetery, in Kherson oblast (Ukraine), on December 6, 2022.

More than eight months ago, ten days after the start of the Russian offensive on Ukraine on February 24, the car in which Anna and Gennadi took place, at the wheel, left the expressway linking Kherson to Mykolaiv. They turn left in Gennadi’s red Lada towards the village where Anna is expected by her husband Sacha, her 20-year-old daughter and her 12-year-old son. In the chaos of the war, she made her decision: she had to go abroad, with her children, as millions of other women were then doing in the country. At first, she comes to the village to find her family, and it is her cousin who takes her away. On the way, near the village of Nadiezdhivka, on a straight line, reports the envoy of the prosecutor, “their vehicle crossed a convoy of tanks and Russian soldiers opened fire for no reason”.

They are mortally wounded. Witnesses told investigators that drunken Russian soldiers were playing clay pigeon shooting with civilian cars driving down the road. That of Anna and Gennadi was traveling with three other vehicles which managed to escape. Nobody will dare to approach the crime scene for two days, leaving the bodies lifeless in the Lada riddled with bullets. Family members will eventually pick them up. Shortly after, a Russian tank will flatten the car under its tracks and push it into the ditch where it still lies, a vestige of abuses on which justice intends to shed light. There are still more than fifty large caliber impacts and the marks of the caterpillars on the compressed sheet metal.

The car in which Gennady Vengrenovski and Anna Manzirokha were killed in March lies on the side of the road near Nadiezdhivka, Kherson Oblast, Ukraine, December 6, 2022.

Impossible manipulation of bodies

“We need to examine the bodies to determine the exact causes of death”, continues the assistant prosecutor who brought Sacha, Anna’s husband. It is he, with a friend, who digs up his wife’s coffin buried under almost two meters of earth. As he digs, we can see, in the distance, the scattered houses of the hamlet of Nova Zorya, which many people here call “Armian”, because of the large Armenian community residing there.

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