Kiev – The vehicle carrying fallen soldiers drove into the courtyard of the morgue in Ukraine’s eastern city of Dnipro at dusk. Iryna Khoroshayeva, an elegant former events manager, watched with high expectations. “Maybe this will be my lucky day and I’ll finally find my beautiful American,” she said.
Its mission in this brutal war is to search, recover and expatriate the bodies of international volunteer soldiers. Since learning about missing Californian Jericho Skye on September 22, Khoroshayeva has been on a relentless search for him in eight morgues in eastern Ukraine.
Animated by belief in the black-and-white moral cause of the war in Ukraine, hundreds of Americans, including Skye, a tall, handsome 26-year-old construction worker, arrived in the early days of the war in Ukraine and stayed to fight or fight. investigate war crimes even as there are signs that U.S. government support is faltering. Skye is said to have died on a battlefield in the Donetsk region in early September.
This job is not just a formality for Khrosshayeva. During her investigation, she learns about the fallen soldier’s life. She discovered that Skye had returned to Ukraine several times during the war and described his Ukrainian brothers-in-arms as “my boys.”
“I wasn’t sure if all the bones were in there, I counted them when I opened the bag; there was a skeleton. He had a helmet and boots on”
— Iryna Khoroshaeva
She won’t give up looking for him. “Skye has a beautiful family, I need to get him back to his wife and little son, who deserve to have a place where they would think of him in his own country,” she said. “This is the least we can do out of our gratitude.”
Searching for the remains of soldiers long missing in the fog and chaos of war sounds impossible, and it certainly takes an extremely stubborn and dedicated individual to track them down. Khoroshayeva, 40, happens to be perfect for the job.
It takes her weeks to search for the decomposed remains of soldiers, which are often hidden among many other decomposed bodies. But Khoroshayeva refuses to take no for an answer. She sends relatives 18 questions about identifying characteristics, searches thousands of photos, talks to military leaders and ultimately goes to mortuaries to find the missing soldiers.
Khorosheva, a cheerful woman with long, straight hair, from the city of Cherkasy, works with the American humanitarian group, the Weatherman Foundation, which focuses mainly on evacuating and helping children and on human rights issues. “Our new mission is not just to bring soldiers home, but to do so with dignity,” foundation President Meaghan Mobbs told The Daily Beast. She shared a photo of a bundle of wheat, tied with a blue and yellow ribbon, placed atop the American flag covering the remains of former U.S. Marine Grady Kurpasi. The group repatriated Kurpasi in May, more than a year after he was killed in a battle outside Kherson. Since June, the Weatherman Foundation has discovered and evacuated 30 fallen international soldiers from Ukrainian battlefields.
All these foreign volunteers had the choice not to go on a mission. Kurpasi could have stayed in Mykolaiv on April 2022, but he went to the occupied Kherson region to help organize the evacuation of civilians. “Russian fire covered them, Grady was killed. In three days, our reconnaissance drone took a photo of Grady’s body on the ground. It was decomposing in the sun on the wet ground,” Khorosheva told The Daily Beast. “To bring his remains home, the army first had to clear the ground.”
“We lifted the remains in plastic bags; there were eight bodies in the Mykolaiv mortuary; I think some wild animals dragged Grady’s body to the other side of the field, to the gray zone,” Khorosheva recalled. “I wasn’t sure if all the bones were in there, I counted them when I opened the bag; there was a skeleton. He had a helmet and boots on, his ammunition was on him.”
Foreign volunteers, including many Americans, often fight shoulder to shoulder with Ukrainians on the most brutal eastern and southern fronts. They enlist in the International Legion both in the regular armed forces and in volunteer battalions, in most cases without informing their embassies and without registering their DNA so that they can be identified if they die in the line of duty.
“I greatly respect each of them for their services to my country, I only wish that a private agency could register the DNA of volunteer soldiers before they go to the front – that would be a huge help,” Khorosheva told The Daily Beast. She helped search, recover and repatriate the remains of Dutch soldiers Redsdorf Rasmus Askjaer and Oskar Aleksander Koksvik Johhansson, as well as Kurpasi, who enlisted in the Marine Corps after September 11, went to Iraq three times as a reconnaissance sniper and was killed in Kherson region in April 2022.
Many soldiers were killed during the nearly two-year Russian invasion of Ukraine. “We say that more than 50,000 soldiers have been killed, although exact figures have not been published and a large number of fallen soldiers, up to half of all fallen, are missing,” Sevgil Musayeva, editor-in-chief of Ukrainska Pravda, told The Daily Beast. .
Funerals of foreign soldiers are held almost every week at Kiev’s spectacular St. Michael’s Monastery. Trumpets and drums played funeral music as several dozen Ukrainian and international soldiers said goodbye to their fallen friends there last Wednesday.
There were male and female soldiers gathered, some very young, some on crutches. The procession carried the coffins to a memorial wall covered with photos of soldiers killed during the years of the Russian invasion. Inside one of the coffins was a 25-year-old Canadian soldier, Austin Lathlin-Bercier, who traveled the world guided “by the call of his heart to defend Ukrainian women and children,” one of his friends told The Daily Beast.
Two days earlier, St. Michael’s had a service for Yusef John Conners of Great Britain
The news of more deaths abroad seems endless. Khoroshayeva often goes to the makeshift monument on Kiev’s Independence Square to look for new names of Americans in the field of flags with names of the fallen.
The project has become a mission for Khoroshayeva’s entire family. Both of her daughters have helped their mother: her twelve-year-old daughter recently sold her ponytail and her fourteen-year-old daughter sold a painting at auction to raise money.
Days and sometimes months pass before the bodies of the fallen can be retrieved from the battlefields. “I can promise the other families who are searching for their missing loved ones that I am doing everything I can – and I will – to find them so that they can be buried in dignity,” Khoroshayeva said. “It drives me further to find their bodies, organize funerals with dignity and ensure that families are compensated for the services of their loved ones.”
“I feel like I’m very close to finding Skye and returning him to his six-year-old son.”