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Ukrainian writer Volodymyr Vakulenko died in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region while it was under Russian occupation. He was buried in the city of Izyum, where about 400 new graves were found after the city’s liberation. Meduza summarizes what we know about his gruesome fate.
Vakulenko, who wrote poetry and children’s books, went missing in March when Russian troops seized Kapitolivka, his hometown. According to Vakulenko’s ex-wife, Iryna Novitska, other local residents denounced him to occupying soldiers, after which either Russian troops or occupation authorities abducted him.
The writer’s father told police that five people, likely from the so-called “LNR People’s Militia,” raided their home on March 23. They took Vakulenko, conducted an interrogation during which they beat him, and then released him. The following day, two people arrived at the home in a car bearing the pro-invasion “Z” symbol and abducted Volodymyr. No one ever saw him alive again. Ukrainian police subsequently opened a criminal investigation into the kidnapping.
In September, when Ukrainian troops liberated Izyum, a mass grave containing the bodies of about 400 people who died during the occupation was found in the city. Vakulenko’s father contacted police in October to tell them he was confident that one of the bodies belonged to his son.
The local funeral service that handled the burials kept records of the bodies. Journalists used the records to determine that Vakulenko was buried at gravesite 319. A photo of the body before it was buried shows part of a tattoo on the arm that looks like one Vakulenko had, as well as shot-through documents with Vakulenko’s name.
Local police officers in Kharkiv initially didn’t confirm that Vakuleno’s body had been found, instead reporting that a woman was buried at site 319. On November 29, however, Kharkiv Regional Deputy Police Chief Serhii Bolvinov reported that a DNA analysis had confirmed that Vakulenko was buried in the mass grave. According to Bolvinov, Vakulenko’s body had two bullet wounds.
According to the Ukrainian news outlet Hromadske, local residents who buried bodies during the occupation say Russian soldiers ordered them to bury a man’s body on May 12 that had been found near Kapitolivka. The body had been lying in the open for more than a month, they told journalists.
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