The man’s body was first discovered by local people who were ploughing a nearby field.
Only lightly covered with dirt, it lay near a copse of trees beside open pastureland roamed by cows near Zahaltsy, a small village in the Bucha district west of Kyiv.
On Tuesday, local police exhumed the remains – believed to be those of a local man – as the aftermath of the Russian occupation continues to haunt the towns and villages around Ukraine’s capital, nearly three months after the invading troops withdrew.
The body was found next to a police checkpoint used by Russian soldiers during their occupation, leading officials to believe that he was killed by the soldiers manning the post.
“All signs indicate that this man was murdered by Russian soldiers. We have found more bodies around checkpoints in this area,” said Vyacheslav Tsyliuryk, the head of the local police unit. “We believe this person was heading towards his home when he was shot.”
As two men started digging up the earth, the outlines of the corpse began to emerge, and then Tsyliuryk pointed to a gunshot wound in the man’s chest as the likely cause of death.
The dead man was wearing a thick winter jacket, which Tsyliuryk said suggested that the killing had taken place in late March or early April, shortly before the Russians left Kyiv. Zahaltsy, like other towns and villages nearby, was occupied for about a month before the Russian forces’ retreat.
“We saw that the majority of murders happened just before the Russians retreated. Then they lost all sense of humanity,” said Tsyliuryk.
The bodies of more than 1,000 civilians have been discovered in the Bucha district, many hastily buried in dozens of shallow mass graves. Ukrainian police believe that about 650 people were shot in what they have described as executions.
The dead man had no identification on him, and the only thing in the pocket of his jeans was an e-cigarette.
As the team worked, a local woman from Zahaltsy ran across the field towards the grave.
“My nephew is missing,” she shouted. “Could this be Victor?”
The woman, Tatyana Ivanina, showed Tsyliuryk a photograph of a young man, but it quickly became clear that the corpse didn’t match the height and weight of her missing nephew.
“Victor has been missing for months,” Ivanina said, as she walked away. “I just want to know what happened to him.”
Tens of thousands of Ukrainians like Victor are still missing.
Many among them, mostly men, were detained and sent to Russian-controlled territories, sometimes used to barter for Russia’s captured soldiers. Others, Tsyliuryk said, were probably dead.
“We have 70 missing in my area alone. The hardest part is when family members come to these exhumations,” he said.