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From DNA samples to children's drawings. How Ukraine is trying to identify some of the people lost in the war

Ukraine, Kyiv (CNN)A funeral director opens the back door of a refrigerated truck outside the already overwhelmed Kyiv morgue. Filled with a heavy stinking mortuary air.

Wearing full protective clothing and a mask, unload the body bags one by one into the gurney and wrap them inside. Investigators pick up the clipboard and stop waiting to start a tough job.

Each bag contains "John Doe". The body of this person has been left in the ruins of the war for weeks and is severely disassembled and unrecognizable.

"Of course it's difficult, but this is not a normal job. It's a desire to help," said Olena Torkachowa, head of family services for the Azov Regiment.

Thousands of Ukrainian killed in action are unidentified. Police, soldiers, investigators, funeral directors, and forensic experts (who are anxious to return their bodies to their loved ones) are constantly striving to find out who they are, so they The body can rest properly.

In most cases, only DNA analysis can provide the answer you need.

Children's drawing clues

The 64 bodies that arrived the day CNN visited the morgue were one of the last holdouts for Ukrainian defenders. It was recovered from the Azovstal Ironworks. Mariupol's port city where fighters finally surrendered in mid-May.

They were handed over by Russian troops in exchange for 56 of their own dead fighters, Tolkachova said.

The body of Daniil Safonov, a 28-year-old Ukrainian police officer who gained popularity on social media by posting the latest information from the front lines, is one of the bodies recovered from Azovstal. Was thought to be.

"Hang up, but it's very difficult," he posted on Twitter on April 3. ""

However, when Safonov's sister Orha Masala examined what appeared to be left in Kieu's morgue, she said she could not distinguish his characteristics. Safonov is believed to have been killed in a mortar attack in early May. His body lay in the heat for almost six weeks.

"He was a very good man. He gave his life for Ukraine. He admitted that he would never return from Mariupol, and I told me that it happened. I was afraid that it was, "said Masala.

But what was hidden in Safonov's uniform pocket was the evidence needed to identify him. Two small crayon drawings from my 6-year-old son, one is a Christmas tree and the other is a rain cloud. Intact.

"This makes it easy," Masala said in tears. "Now I can bury him, and I will calm down to know that his grave is nearby. I was waiting for him."

Her Relief is rare. In almost all cases, the only hope of identification is by DNA analysis, which is a long and complex task.

DNA sample match

The process begins inside the morgue, where the funeral director extracts tissue samples from the dead. Due to the high degree of decomposition of the body, bone fragments are often the only option.

Samples will be sent to the Kyiv Institute, where analysts will work on creating a DNA profile.

"If the bone is broken, you need to do dozens of trials to get the DNA profile. It can take months, but stop trying. No, "said Ruslan Abbasov, head of the DNA Research Institute. Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

"We work 24/7 to help Ukrainians find their loved ones. We name each victim and identify all military personnel. And hope they can be buried with dignity. "

Next, forensic experts use special software to find John Doe's DNA, a loved one. By comparing with the government database of thousands of people, we try to find a match for the body.

"Statistically, the more profiles you have, the more matches you have. It's clear that you don't have enough DNA from your missing relatives," said a forensic expert in the lab. Stanislav Martinenko says.

"It will take years to find all the unidentified human bodies after the end of the war."

According to Abasov, the 700 cataloged so far. Of the unidentified bodies, 200 have been collated with their families so far.

Martynenko is behind many of these identifications. "When I play a match, I feel like I've finished my job," he told CNN. "And we need to start with the police and let everyone know about this match."

To expand the government database, authorities reported that the family was missing and DNA at the local police station. We have set up a hotline to arrange for samples to be provided. Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February, about 1,000 people have been positive about it.

However, some of the people lost in this war are unlikely to be returned to their families.

"Some bodies are so damaged that DNA cannot be extracted," explained Azov Regiment Tolkachova in tears. "We have parents who say,'I understand I can't find my child, but at least bring me some of the soil I walked to fill from Mariupol.'

Her voice conveys the pain they felt You will never know the fate of your loved one, you will never receive a corpse to bury, and you will probably never find a closure. ..

This is the result of Ukrainian forensic experts working hard to avoid it. However, with the arrival of many relics every day and the intensifying war in the east and south of Ukraine, the challenge is difficult.