The death rate in Ukraine's Kharkiv, Ukraine is high and it's not easy to understand why.

Kharkiv's outskirts feel like an open-air morgue.

The death rate in Ukraine's Kharkiv, Ukraine is high and it's not easy to understand why.

KHARKIV (Ukraine) -- Kharkiv's outskirts feel like an open-air morgue. There, the bodies of the deceased lie unclaimed and unexplained for weeks as Ukrainian and Russian forces battle for control of slivers.

The unidentified body of a man is found on an anti-tank wall made of crossed I beams. It's located outside of a town that has been under both sides' control in recent days. The four dead soldiers are apparently Russian and are arranged in a Z, similar to the military symbol on Russian armored vehicles. They can be seen by the Russian drones, which continuously buzz overhead. Three bodies can be found inside the apartment through the door.

It is unlikely that we will ever know how this all happened.

Since the start of the war in February, Kharkiv (Ukraine's second largest city) has been under constant Russian attack. The Russian onslaught is intensifying in the East as a result of the Russian offensive.

The territory around the eastern city has been viewed as a strategic and industrial treasure. It has been fought for several weeks between Ukrainian and Russian forces, with fighting shifting from village to village. Kharkiv's 1,000,000 residents have fled, although not all.

Journalists from the Associated Press saw the bodies forming a Z. They were wearing white arm bands, which are commonly worn by Russian soldiers, along with some Russian medical equipment. They were found at a front line, where fighting had been ongoing for several days. The burned man and the two men were also taken to a morgue Monday. The Z formation, a Russian symbol of invasion -- and the burnt body on the barrier were both unexplained. Both could be considered war crimes, as they disrespect the dignity of the deceased.

The next step will be to investigate their identities and possibly notify their families.

It is difficult to unravel even this. A body with Ukrainian insignia was found to have the identity papers and documents of a Russian soldier. Although the apartment in which the bodies were found was badly damaged, it is not clear what caused them to be killed.

Everyday, there is a threat of airstrikes and shelling. As long as this holds true, death can happen at any time without anyone being able to explain why.

It gave us a rare glimpse at the horrors and deaths of war. It was difficult to get a complete picture of the ongoing battle in eastern Ukraine because it has been extremely difficult for journalists to move about due to artillery fires and airstrikes. Russia has severely curtailed reporting from the conflict zone. Ukraine has not imposed any restrictions on publication or information about military installations.

On Monday, a top U.S. defense official stated that Ukrainian forces had, over the past 48 hours, succeeded in driving Russian forces further from Kharkiv, while it was still under Russian aerial bombardment. According to the official speaking under anonymity, the Russians were pushed 40 km (25 miles) east of Kharkiv, further into Donbas.

According to the Red Cross mutilating dead bodies during international armed conflict is covered under the war crime of "committing utterances upon personal dignity" under International Criminal Court Statute. This also applies to deceased persons, according to the Elements of Crimes.


This report was contributed by Lolita Baldor, Associated Press Pentagon Writer in Washington.

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