ZMIIV, Ukraine — The wind carried the smell of death across the street. The body of the dead man, burned, mutilated and barely recognizable, was taken from the refrigerator and laid on a metal gurney. The coroner smoked a cigarette and unzipped the black bag.
It was a beautiful spring day. There had been no shelling that morning. And Oksana Pokhodenko, 34, gasped, blinking, at the charred corpse. That was not her brother, she told herself, that was not Oleksandr. That was barely a human.
Her brother lived once. The family patriarch for 20 years since their father died, he called his sister every day after the war started as he fled with his family to a village, Husarivka, wedged between rolling wheat fields. He kept calling — “Hello, Little One. We’re good. How are you?” — but never mentioned that the Russians had overrun the village where he was hiding.
Ms. Pokhodenko, in black jeans, a black jacket and barely laced sneakers, struggled to keep looking at the body. Her brother had taught her how to ride a bike and had loved to watch cartoons for hours with his son. To his sister, he was a “stone wall.” This was a charred husk. Half of the man’s skull was gone, and his chest cavity was splayed open.