This is not where Nadiya Trubchaninova thought she would find herself at 70 years of age, hitchhiking daily from her village to the shattered town of Bucha trying to bring her son’s body home for burial.
The questions wear her down, heavy like the winter coat and boots she still wears against the chill. Why had Vadym gone to Bucha, where the Russians were so much harsher than the ones occupying their village? Who shot him as he drove on Yablunska Street, where so many bodies were found? And why did she lose her son just one day before the Russians withdrew?
Now 48-year-old Vadym is in a black bag in a refrigerated truck. After word reached her that he had been found and buried by strangers in a yard in Bucha, she has spent more than a week trying to bring him home for a proper grave. But he is one body among hundreds, part of an investigation into war crimes that has grown to global significance.
Trubchaninova is among the many elderly people left behind or who chose to stay as millions of Ukrainians fled across borders or to other parts of the country. They were the first to be seen on empty streets after the Russians withdrew from communities around the capital, Kyiv, peering from wooden gates or carrying bags of donated food back to freezing homes.
Some, like Trubchaninova, survived the worst of the war only to find it had taken their children.
She last saw her son on March 30. She thought he was taking a walk as part of his long recovery from a stroke. “It would be crazy to go farther,” she said. She wonders whether he went driving to search for a cellphone connection to call his own son and wish him happy birthday.
She wonders whether Vadym thought the Russians in Bucha were like those occupying their village, who told them they wouldn’t be harmed if they didn’t fight back.