– God will punish the guilty in the end

The blue and yellow Ukrainian flag flutter in the wind. The row of fresh graves stretches far beyond, past where the cemetery once ended.

In Butsja, they have had to expand the cemeteries.

Volodymyr Stefienko wanders to one of the graves.

He makes the sign of the cross: “Hello, brother”, he mumbles quietly and kisses the cross.

LAST RESTORATION: Dmitry Stefienko rests in this cemetery in Butsja. Photo: Pål S. Schaathun / TV 2

He bends down, straightens the flowers that surround the mound of earth that covers the coffin with his brother Dmitry.

Some raspberries and a plate are strewn on the small patch of ground.

– Mom was here yesterday, he explains and starts cleaning.

According to Ukrainian tradition, the relatives bring some food and drink to the dead when they visit the grave.

– I do not come here so often, Volodymyr explains.

– You must not do that, because then you disturb the soul of the dead.

NEW TOMBS: There are many fresh graves in this cemetery in Butsja.  On the military side, new graves have already been dug out, ready to receive fallen soldiers from the front.  Photo: Pål S. Schaathun / TV 2

NEW TOMBS: There are many fresh graves in this cemetery in Butsja. On the military side, new graves have already been dug out, ready to receive fallen soldiers from the front. Photo: Pål S. Schaathun / TV 2

Killed by the Russians

Dmitry Stefienko, also called Dima by family and friends, disappeared on February 26.

TV 2 was present when he was found on April 8 in a mass grave by the church in the city center together with 66 other people.

Volodymyr remembers well the fateful day when he saw the body of his little brother in the mass grave.

BUTSHA APRIL 8: The bodies of about 70 people were found in the mass grave at the church in the center of Butsja.  Photo: VALENTYN OGIRENKO

BUTSHA APRIL 8: The bodies of about 70 people were found in the mass grave at the church in the center of Butsja. Photo: VALENTYN OGIRENKO

– The first 10 bodies were taken out, and he was number four, he says quietly.

– I recognized his head immediately, but could not believe it. Then they turned him around, and yes, he was. I cried for a long time.

BUTSHA APRIL 8: Volodymyr Stefienko is comforted by his wife Anna after discovering his brother, Dmitry, in a mass grave.  The wife's brother was also killed by the Russians in Butsja.  Photo: VALENTYN OGIRENKO

BUTSHA APRIL 8: Volodymyr Stefienko is comforted by his wife Anna after discovering his brother, Dmitry, in a mass grave. The wife’s brother was also killed by the Russians in Butsja. Photo: VALENTYN OGIRENKO

So far, investigators have found the bodies of more than 1,100 people in and around Butsja after the Russians were forced out of northern Ukraine.

Volodymyr does not have only one grave to go to in the cemetery. 100 meters from Dmitrij’s grave, lies his brother-in-law, Viktor Lukianenko.

The 32-year-old disappeared on March 5, and for over a month the family did not know what had happened to him.

– We had a hope that he might have been captured. My wife had nevertheless given a DNA sample. In mid-April, they called and said they had been hit, says Volodymyr.

BROTHER-KILLED: Volodymyr Stefienko makes the sign of the cross in front of the grave of his brother-in-law, Viktor Lukianenko.  Photo: Pål S. Schaathun / TV 2

BROTHER-KILLED: Volodymyr Stefienko makes the sign of the cross in front of the grave of his brother-in-law, Viktor Lukianenko. Photo: Pål S. Schaathun / TV 2

Lukianenko was in a morgue with other unidentified individuals.

– The body was in such poor condition that they could not see that it was him. But he had a scar and a necklace around his neck that the family recognized, says Volodymyr.

The forensic examinations showed that both Dmitry and Viktor were shot.

Finds several mass graves

New bodies and mass graves are constantly being found in the areas occupied by the Russians. On Monday 13 June, the bodies of seven people were found buried in a wood near the village of Myrotske, about 10 kilometers from Butsja.

Several of the bodies were tortured, according to Kyiv County police.

NEW MASS TOMB: On Monday 13 June, the police found the bodies of seven people in this wood.  Several of them were tortured.  Photo: Valentyn Ogirenko / Reuters / NT

NEW MASS TOMB: On Monday 13 June, the police found the bodies of seven people in this wood. Several of them were tortured. Photo: Valentyn Ogirenko / Reuters / NT

“Unfortunately, we expect to find more mass graves in the area around Butsja,” spokeswoman for the police in Kyiv county, Irina Pryanishnikova.

She admits, however, that they did not expect to find such a large mass grave.

– We thought there might be 2-3 people there, and were shocked when we found seven bodies. They were shot in the knees and in the head. They were civilians, not military, she tells TV 2.

Irina Pryanishnikova, a spokeswoman for the Kyiv County Police, believes they will find more mass graves.  Photo: Pål S. Schaathun

Irina Pryanishnikova, a spokeswoman for the Kyiv County Police, believes they will find more mass graves. Photo: Pål S. Schaathun

To date, police in Kyiv province have opened criminal investigation into the killings of more than 1,300 people they believe were committed by Russian forces.

On a national basis, the police have started investigating the killings of more than 12.000 Ukrainians, according to the head of the National Police of Ukraine, Igor Klimenko.

Volodymyr found his brother in a mass grave – see the report here

The Ukrainian attorney general, Iryna Venediktova, says they get in daily 200-300 reports of possible war crimes.

Ukrainian authorities have made an overview her.

Investigating while the war rages

Just days after the Russian invasion on February 24, the investigation into possible war crimes also began.

It is historic that war crimes are being investigated to such an extent while the war is still raging.

So far, at least three Russian soldiers have been convicted of war crimes, and Thursday June 23 started the first trial against a Russian soldier accused of rape.

The soldier is said to have broken into a house in the Brovarsky area around Kyiv, killed the man in the house and repeatedly had raped his.

The trial takes place in absentia because the soldier is not in Ukraine.

CONVICTED: Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin was sentenced in May to life in prison for the murder of a Ukrainian civilian man.  Photo: Roman Hrytsyna

CONVICTED: Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin was sentenced in May to life in prison for the murder of a Ukrainian civilian man. Photo: Roman Hrytsyna

Dozens of other lawsuits are on the way.

France, Lithuania and the Netherlands have sent investigators to Ukraine, and the International Criminal Court in The Hague has opened an investigation into potential war crimes.

Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, visits the scene of the mass grave at the church in Butsja together with the Ukrainian Attorney General Iryna Venediktova.  Photo: VOLODYMYR PETROV

Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, visits the scene of the mass grave at the church in Butsja together with the Ukrainian Attorney General Iryna Venediktova. Photo: VOLODYMYR PETROV

“We hope that Europe and the International Criminal Court will help us hold the Russian army accountable for the crimes they have committed here in Ukraine,” said Pryanishnikova of the Kyiv police.

– Gets his punishment anyway

Volodymyr shrugs when TV 2 asks if he thinks those who killed Dmitry and Viktor will be punished.

– They will get their punishment anyway. If it does not happen in court, God will punish them anyway. They do not want to get away with it, he says.

Volodymyr Stefienko believes the culprits after the murder of his brother and brother-in-law will receive their punishment in the end.  Photo: Pål S. Schaathun / TV 2

Volodymyr Stefienko believes the culprits after the murder of his brother and brother-in-law will receive their punishment in the end. Photo: Pål S. Schaathun / TV 2

Next to Dmitrij’s tomb, there is an extra space. It is reserved for Volodymyr’s mother, Nathalia.

– We bought the place next to Dmitry for her. She will be buried next to him, says Volodymyr.

He says that the mother is still in deep grief over the loss of the youngest son.

– She still cries a lot, and often looks at photos and video of Dmitry. In time, we hope that she will accept that he is no longer with us, and that life must go on, says Volodymyr.

IN DEEP SORROW: Volodymyr's mother, Nathalia, is in deep grief over the loss of her youngest son.  The photo was taken in April, when TV 2 met the family for the first time.  Photo: Aage Aune / TV 2

IN DEEP SORROW: Volodymyr’s mother, Nathalia, is in deep grief over the loss of her youngest son. The photo was taken in April, when TV 2 met the family for the first time. Photo: Aage Aune / TV 2

For Volodymyr, the most important thing now is to try to take life back. But the fear is still there.

– We will never forget what we went through, but life goes on, he says.

– We must accept that he is no longer among us. We come to the grave from time to time, sit and talk to him for a while. Then we let him rest in peace. Life must go on.

TV 2 IN UKRAINE: Reporter Hilde Gran and photographer Pål Schaathun report from Ukraine.

TV 2 I UKRAINA: Reporter Hilde Gran og photographer Pål Schaathun reporter fra Ukraina. Photo: Pål Schaathun / TV 2

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