When I touch an old woman’s shoulder and lightly stroke it, leading her to a tent where French criminologists are gathering all the information about those whose relatives are seeking them and where they take DNA samples, tears well up in her eyes. And I understand that it is better not to touch anyone else and not to express sympathy or support in any way. Otherwise, all their fragile composure and resilience, which they achieved by incredible effort, will dissolve. Everyone who submits a sample must answer, with the help of a Ukrainian interpreter, a number of questions from the French side in accordance with their protocol. Everyone needs to remember everything and relive it.
— Can I have your passport, please?
— Who exactly are you looking for?
— Provide his/her last name, first name, patronymic, date of birth and address.
— What did he/she do for a living? When did he/she disappear or when was the last time you got in touch? Do you have his/her documents? Is he/she married? Does he/she have children? Are there other relatives who could also take the test. Does he/she have a foreign passport? Does he/she have any tattoos, scars or special features? Did he/she go to the dentist? Did he/she have dental imaging done? Does he/she have a medical card? Do you know how to reach the dentist? Do you have his/her photo? Leave your signature here that you agree to the verification and processing of your personal data, which will not be used anywhere else, but only for this procedure.
— We are looking for our son.
— I'm looking for my brother.
— I'm looking for my mother.
— I'm looking for my parents.
— I'm looking for my sister, and my mother is looking for her daughter.
— I'm looking for my father.
— I'm looking for my daughter.
— I'm looking for my son. And my brother and his whole family. However, we have already found my niece. She was recognized by the rings on her fingers in the morgue.
— The last time he got in touch was on February 26.
— Early in the morning on March 5, my father called and said he was going for a walk.
— He disappeared here in Bucha. He and a few other guys. Russians cleaned out the house and took them all away.
— He was here at a checkpoint. They were all attacked.
— The last time she wrote to me was on March 2. She said she was going to bed and wished me good night.
— Yes, the mother and the sister are there. However, they are abroad.
— Yes, he has a father. However, we are divorced, we do not live together. And I will ask him to come and take the test.
— I have a wife and two children.
— No, I’m her only sister. Our parents died a long time ago.
— No, my brother and I have no parents. There were only two of us.
— Yes, my dad had a foreign passport. He was just going to Spain in March.
— No, I do not have any of his documents. He said he was going to enlist and took everything with him. He has not answered the phone for a long time.
— I have my son’s birth certificate. That’s all I have left.
— Here is my phone with a photo of my daughter.
— He had a tattoo on his arm with his blood type.
— She had a lot of freckles all over her body.
— He wore a silver cross around his neck. Be sure to write it down. Because I’ve heard it helps find people.
— He had a scar after appendectomy and a small hole in his chest after a heart attack when he had a needle inserted at the hospital.
— His left arm was broken. People told me that they saw them catching him and breaking his arm.
— The car burned down and I don’t know if my dad was in it or not. I don’t know where he is.
— He didn’t seem to have any special features. He was an ordinary guy. He looked like his father.
— They say his head was injured when he was last seen.
— They found my father’s car. And there are bones on the seat. And no one knows whose they are. They will take DNA from them, right?
— There is nothing left of the house, only ashes. I don’t know if she was home then.
— I know where his body is, I even know his number in the morgue. He was simply buried under someone else’s name.
— I don’t care what you take. The main thing is to find my daughter.
How incredible all these people were: patient, attentive, grateful, without the slightest complaint, without unnecessary questions. After all the horror, sometimes they even smiled. How they firmly held in their hands their queue number (number 13 everyone threw out in unison) and the signed information agreement, fearing to lose them or miss their turn. However, there were no objections to some cutting ahead of everyone in line: grandmothers with disabilities or diabetes, a soldier who had to take time off work, people who came from other cities or villages, a little boy whose father had disappeared.
— The results will be in a week or two. We will call you.
— How fast, thank you. Because I have been searching and waiting since March 12. My whole life seems to have turned upside down.
The woman who brought her little son for analysis looks at me after every question and seems to be looking for some support, some answer. The boy sits silently next to her and only the chaotic movement of his fingers betrays everything he feels at this moment. Before taking the test, he said that his father was in the army and would return soon and teach him to ride a bicycle.
After just an hour the French know how to say «good afternoon» and «thank you» in Ukrainian. They work like real professionals, but barely hide the expression of shock on their face from what they heard.
Next to the morgue, where the sampling tents have been set up, is a huge refrigerator full of unrecognisable bodies, more precisely what is left of them. Each of the 66 people who came to submit samples that day wants only one thing — to find their relatives, to find out what happened to them, where they are. And they believe that their loved ones are not in the refrigerator, that they are alive.
I once had ordinary human dreams. Now one of them is for every unidentified body part to regain its name in order to be mourned by a family and to finally rest. Because it’s important. How few things really matter now…