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Myhailyna Skoryk, Bucha’s deputy mayor, speaks during a news conference in Bucha, Ukraine, on Aug 8.Anton Skyba

The Kyiv suburb of Bucha has come to symbolize the worst atrocities of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and it’s only now that city officials are getting close to determining how many people died and who they were.

But even as they released a summary of the latest death toll Monday, officials said more bodies were still being found and 30 corpses had yet to be identified. Five had been burned so badly that they couldn’t tell if they were male or female, and investigators are analyzing a collection of body parts that could result in many more confirmed deaths.

“We understand how important it is to identify every non-identified body correctly in order to understand what the Russians did here,” said Myhailyna Skoryk, Bucha’s deputy mayor, who has been leading the effort to identify the dead.

Ms. Skoryk told a news conference Monday that a total of 458 people died during the Russian occupation of the suburb, which lasted from Feb. 27 to March 31.

But establishing who was directly killed by Russian forces and who died as a consequence of the occupation has not been easy and poses a dilemma for officials trying to piece together what happened and considering the pursuit of criminal charges.

The city has estimated that 419 people died as a result of direct Russian aggression. But others perished while in hiding or because they lacked food, water or medicine.

For example, Ms. Skoryk cited the case of a mother who hid in her basement with her three children for weeks. They had very little to eat or drink, and the mother died while the children survived. Her death was not included in the 419 figure because she was not killed directly by Russian soldiers.

Another case involved two sisters, Lyudmyla and Nina Buchok, who were in their late 60s. Nina was shot by Russian soldiers, while Lyudmyla died after she ran out of medicine for a health condition. For now, each death will be recorded in a different category, and Ms. Skoryk said it will be up to criminal investigators to establish the final lists.

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Volunteers of the Territorial Defence Forces walk next to destroyed Russian tanks and armoured vehicles in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, on April 6.ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS/Reuters

The majority of the dead were men – 366 of the 458 total. There were also nine children among the victims, including one as young as four. A total of 14 people, all men, were taken captive by the Russians and are still being held, and between 10 and 20 people are missing.

And those figures are far from final. Ms. Skoryk said that in the past few weeks 10 bodies were uncovered in the surrounding area. Officials also continue to field calls from as many as three people a week reporting a missing relative. “Every month I think this is the last month,” she said Monday. “Unfortunately it’s not the end.”

She added that her team has also struggled with identification. Most of the legwork has been painstaking, with officials trying to match paper records and often relying on relatives and even neighbours for help. While there was some DNA testing in May, most of that has been left to criminal investigators, and the city has been forced to rely on outdated records.

Ms. Skoryk said 50 bodies in the morgue have yet to be claimed and about 30 of them have not been identified. So many body parts have been recovered that officials have found it next to impossible to determine how many more people may have died.

“It’s very awful,” Ms. Skoryk said. “That’s why it’s so difficult to have lists. It’s very difficult to understand what is a body and what is a part of a body.”

For some families, the process of finding loved ones can be agonizing.

Ms. Skoryk recalled meeting a woman who had been trying to determine if a corpse that had been found was that of her father. He’d left for work on Feb. 24 and headed to Hostomel, a village just outside Bucha that saw some of the first and most vicious fighting of the war. The body was so badly burned, Ms. Skoryk said, that officials couldn’t even take a DNA sample. “He was like a person after cremation. … Only very good experts could confirm the identity of such a person. And we have not one case like this, unfortunately, but I think dozens.”

She and her team are determined to continue their work so the city can erect a monument that includes the names of all those who died.

“We want to remember everybody in the memorial. We don’t want to have unknown graves,” she said. “Because for the families and for us as Bucha city council that’s extremely important. That’s why we are working very accurately on each name on the list and we are fact checking twice, sometimes 10 times.”

When asked about the emotional toll the identification process has been taking, Ms. Skoryk said she tries not to think about that and just concentrate on her task. “Really, it’s easier to talk about the figures than about these stories,” she said. “Because every figure is a tragedy.”

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