Authorities in Kiev have turned to the International Commission on Missing Persons to help list the names of bodies that might otherwise remain anonymous in the fog of the war.
A team of forensic pathologists, forensic archaeologists and body and family DNA cross-comparison experts are expected to travel to Ukraine early next week, CEO Kathryne Bomberger said on Friday.
They will help identify the dead, but also document how they died – information that may contribute to the investigation of war crimes in the future. The organization’s laboratory in an office block on a busy street in The Hague will build a central database that will catalog the evidence and identities of the missing.
“Having this centralized capability is absolutely essential because you have to look at it as an investigation into a giant crime that is taking place in Ukraine,” Bomberger said.
The team will have a lot of work to do when they move to Bucha, where footage of bodies lying on the streets after the withdrawal of Russian forces shocked the world.
Mayor Buchy Anatoly Fedoruk said on Ukrainian television on Thursday that at least three places of mass shooting on civilians had been found during the Russian occupation. Fedoruk said hundreds of deaths and investigators found bodies in yards, parks and squares.
Vladyslav Atroshenko, mayor of Chernihiv, said that about 700 military personnel and civilians had been killed in the city in the north of the country during the war and that 70 bodies remained unidentified, the Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform said.
The Commission, known as ICMP, is already working with the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor’s office and other anti-crime agencies, such as Interpol and Europol, to exchange evidence. ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan has already started an investigation in Ukraine.
“We want to make sure that we work with the Ukrainian authorities to properly excavate these crime scenes in order to identify the remains of mortals so that evidence can be provided in the future, not only potentially to the ICC, but also potentially. within the national courts in Ukraine, “said Bomberger.
The organization is at the forefront of using new technologies in their careful work to identify bodies from even the smallest samples.
“We have implemented a new extraction technique that allows us to extract more DNA from smaller or more damaged bone sample fragments,” said DNA Laboratory Manager Kieren Hill. “It’s a pretty unique method when it comes to applying it in the context of a missing person.”
On Friday, laboratory workers in white clothes covered in blue plastic coveralls, hair nets and gloves worked carefully on other cases, catching small bone fragments in pliers and grinding their surfaces in search of DNA.
The ICMP has an online portal where people in Ukraine can report their bodies anonymously and help missing family members provide DNA samples to help them identify them.
The commission was set up to track down the dead of the Balkan wars in the 1990s. Its sterile, state-of-the-art laboratories are far from muddy mass graves, where the organization’s experts first came to the forefront among the decaying dead of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre with more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims.
They helped name the bodies, which in some cases were torn to pieces and spread over several mass graves as Bosnian Serb forces buried and then re-buried the dead in a bid to cover up the traces of their genocidal attempt to exterminate the Bosniak Bosniaks.
The Commission has taken care not to cover the tracks. Bosnian Serb army chief General Ratko Mladic and his political lord Radovan Karadzic are now serving life sentences for crimes, including genocide. Both men were partially convicted by evidence gathered by the ICMP.
The organization, funded by voluntary government contributions, has since helped national governments name the thousands of other people whose anonymous remains have been found from cities, including more than 3,000 mass and secret graves.
She has worked in crime scenes around the world, including Syria, Libya and Iraq. The organization also helped identify victims of a tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004 and extracted DNA from bone samples of 250 people killed when Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in 2005.
Ukraine could prove to be one of its biggest challenges, as the organization is cooperating with the Ukrainian authorities in investigating and creating cases in the midst of the ongoing war.
“So ensuring that this process is conducted in accordance with a proper investigation, that these sites are properly documented to obtain the right chain of custody, will be a challenge,” Bomberger said. “I think under the circumstances, as long as there is an active conflict.”
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