Staff numb the horror as bodies pile up in Ukraine morgue

Staff numb the horror as bodies pile up in Ukraine morgue

DONETSK, Ukraine - Like most staff at this east Ukrainian morgue, Olga Georgiyevna takes sedatives to numb the horror of seeing the bodies pile up. The ceasefire deal has done nothing to make her job easier.

"I know I'm crazy to still work here," the nurse says, her eyes welling with tears in the central hospital of Ukraine's largest rebel-held city of Donetsk. "We all are."

Despite a truce signed by Kiev and pro-Russian insurgents on September 5, bodies are still being brought in daily.

"On Monday, there were 13 civilians. On Tuesday, 11. Today nine," says forensic department head Dmitry Kalashnikov.

The United Nations said on Wednesday that up to 331 people may have died between the deal's signing and Monday -- three times the figure reported by Kiev.

In a room on the lower floor of Kalinin Hospital, 15 bodies are piled up, while others are on stretchers awaiting examination.

"A regular day," Mikhail Zoloto, a medical examiner with 21 years of experience, sighs behind his tinted glasses. "It's one thing to see soldiers die, they made a choice. But to see civilians or children..."

With fighting intensifying across the region in recent days, the hospital has installed three refrigerator trucks near the entrance.

Since the windows were blown out in late August, the putrid smell from the trucks creeps into the building through the plastic sheets installed in their place.

"For me, working in an office, the hard part is not physical but emotional," Kalashnikov said.

"I go quickly to the neurology department and take pills. But for the personnel, it's difficult both physically and emotionally."

- 'The wedding was shelled' -

At the entrance, a dozen people -- soldiers, a young couple, and several elderly residents -- are waiting to be attended to.

"It's worst at the reception," says nurse Georgiyevna.

"Here the people tell their stories, crying. Three days ago, a young man came... His family had come from Israel to the wedding of one of his daughters. He had to step out for a minute, and while he was away, the wedding was shelled."

Georgiyevna, 55, has worked at the morgue for 30 years. She pours several drops of a sedative into her mug: "Since mid-July, I can't do without it."

For months, she has worked almost every day, witnessing the victims of peak summer fighting, the remains of foreigners killed when their Malaysian airliner was shot down over rebel territory in July, and now the civilians slain in the post-truce clashes.

Like the rest of her colleagues among the 24-strong staff, she received a salary for September, but not for June, July or August.

On August 24, she considered not showing up, but then a shell landed on the morgue.

"The roof was hit, there were 40 dead coming in, so I went. I feel responsible to these families."

"We don't get any counselling," Zoloto, the medical examiner, says. "I try to clear my head on my way home. You have no choice, otherwise you can go crazy."

Georgiyevna agrees.

"We are all a little mad here," she says.

"You see mothers whose children were killed, and all they ask for is more weapons and better bulletproof vests (for the army). They don't ask to stop the war."

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