The investigators exhumed bodies at the site of a mass grave in Izium this month.
When they pulled Serhiy Sova's body from a grave in Izium, his wrist bore a bracelet in Ukraine's colors, given to him by his children. The image has captivated the nation.
KYIV, Ukraine — The body pulled from a pit in Izyum was in a bad state of decomposition, the skin peeling from the bone and drained of color. One thing stood out: the blue and yellow bracelet around the dead man's wrist. The Ukrainian flag's colors had barely faded. The corpse, one of hundreds exhumed after Ukraine reclaimed Izium from the Russians this month, was another reminder of the savage toll of the war. The bracelet conveyed something different: the fortitude and individuality amid a grim tableau of mass death. The message that Ukraine lives on is almost defiant, even if some of its people don't. The image captured the imagination of the nation. It was shared widely on Facebook and the telegram messaging app. Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's foreign minister, had a similar bracelet on his wrist when he spoke to the UN Security Council on Thursday, as evidence of Russian atrocities.
Oksana Sova saw something else when she saw it. In 2014, the bracelet looked like what her children had given her husband, Serhiy, when he went off to fight for Ukraine. She looked at the full image of the corpse, studied the tattoos, and knew it was him in a moment. Serhiy's most recent tattoo is a samurai with a branch of sakura above him, she said in a telephone interview on Thursday as she went to collect his remains. Samurai is a warrior who goes to the end. The sakura is a symbol of hope and recovery. Her husband, she said, had the spirit of a samurai. On Friday, Ms. Sova buried her husband, this time with a proper funeral in her hometown Nikopol in southern Ukraine.
She would look through images from morgues every day for five months. She held out hope that perhaps he was taken prisoner, after all, others had been captured and survived, she reasoned. Serhiy's wife believes that he was tortured and captured. The forensic report said Serhiy died of a gunshot wound, but the pathologist could not give a time of death. The family doesn't know if he died on the battlefield or was taken prisoner and then killed. His former colleagues, military comrades and residents stood by his graveside on Friday afternoon. Despite the severe shelling overnight and early in the morning near Nikopol, many people came to see Serhiy laid to rest, his wife said. It was hard for all of us, but we all stood firm, as Serhiy did throughout his life, she said. The bracelet was not buried with him. Evidence in the criminal investigation into his death was found in Izium.