• Номер запису / Number of record: 285-05-04
  • Автор(-ка) / Author: Taras
  • Дата запису / Date of record: December 27, 2022
  • Регіон / Region: Donetsk region

Taxi for the dead

«We won’t be going into Zabakhmutka[1],» the woman cuts us off.

«How am I supposed to get them there?» Vlad asks.

«I don’t know.»

The woman could care less about Vlad. What really concerns her is how to get out for a smoke. A cigarette that she has pulled out of her pack is waiting on the table half an hour already, but the flow of people is unending.

You can understand the woman: she’s new to Bakhmut’s funeral services. It’s just her second day on the job and, as if on purpose, artillery fire began in the very morning. The flying danger keeps getting closer, the window panes are ringing louder and louder, and funeral wreaths are falling off the wall.

Vlad pays no attention to all this. He has a one problem: to bury his parents at the cemetery, so that they wouldn’t have to be buried in the yard.

I ask him how this happened.

«A shell flew in,» Vlad answers, «and they were just going to feed the neighbor’s livestock. I found my father near the cellar, my mother in the garden. I didn’t even realize that it was her right away. There was almost nothing left of her. Don’t worry that I’m telling you this so calmly, it’s just that, two hours ago, I was still chatting with them, and now they’re gone.»

An older man turns to Vlad: «Write this down. It’s the number of Volodya, a cabby. He’ll bring your parents here.»

«How will I call him?» Vlad asks.

«He's at a point of invincibility, they have internet. Drop in at the hospital as well and get a notice of death form. Without that, we won’t bury them.»

At the invincibility point, at the other end of town, there are dozens of people. Vlad tries without success to reach Volodya. Once again, no one is paying any attention to Vlad. Some have already drunk some hot tea and are drifting to sleep on the bench near the wall. Most are charging their phones. The volunteer are going back and forth with firewood for the potbelly stove.

In one corner, a Christmas tree stands in the middle of the chaos. Above it hangs a flat-screen TV that is broadcasting a «marathon of only news.

«Right now we’re going to talk with our expert dietologist about how to prepare a New Year’s dinner so that it’s nutritious and not expensive. Ms. Olena? Are you on air? Welcome!» says the presenter.

Some man hears this, turns to the television and interrupts the expert Olena with: «Oh shit! Better tell us where to find money so that we might have any supper at all.»

Vlad still can’t reach Volodya. I connect my phone to the wifi, go into Viber, input the number and turn the speaker on. Finally Volodya takes the call:

«Allo! Volodya?!»


«Good morning. We need to bring some bodies from Zabakhmutka tomorrow. Can you do it?»

«I can.»

«Where should we wait for you?»

«08:30 at the crossing.»

We meet Volodya the following day at the gas station in Kostiantynivka to discuss our plan. He drives up in a white Lanos with a light that says «Bakhmut Taxis» on his roof.

«My white Lanos is the only one its kind in the entire Donbas!» Volodya brags.

«It's really very cool,» I think, shifting my gaze from our dirty off-road vehicle to Volodya’s Lanos. «But how the hell are we going to drive to Zabakhmutka in it?»

Meanwhile, Volodya is smiling genuinely, saying that he’s done this before that the situation is much worse now, but everything will be ok. «We'll get through.»

Volodya’s wearing an old, greasy jacket. He obviously has problems with his teeth. But none of this means anything. His confidence and natural charisma do their work. After five minutes of talking, Volodya reminds me of Dean Moriarity in Jack Kerouac’s novel, «On the Road.» I suggest that we take some coffee for the road.

«No,» says Volodya smiling. «I drink only one cup a day, when I get up. My heart is bad, it might not take it.»

We move towards Bakhmut. Rushing in the opposite direction are tanks, APCs and pick-ups. The white Lanos maneuvers elegantly among them. The clock says 08:35. Vlad is waiting for us at the crossing. We quickly pick him up and head for the funeral service for some black bags.

«You have to pick coffins so that we can prepare them while you are over there,» the young funeral manager tells Vlad. He used to work at Bakhmut’s Zelenbud [Greenconstruction].

«I have no idea which ones to pick,» says Vlad tiredly. «Am I supposed to enjoy them? You pick them yourself.» But it turns out Vlad has to pick them as there are many different kinds and that means the prices vary. The funeral manager tries to explain this gently. Vlad stands lost in the midst of a dozen coffins and crosses. Andriy Dubchak comes up to him and quietly hands him some money to cover part of the cost.

«Volodya!» one of the staff shouts.


«Bring us some bread from Konstakha tomorrow.»

«Of course. If I make it back from Zabakhmutka, I’ll bring it.»

Meanwhile, shells are flying across the town every minute. I go up to Khrystyna Havryliuk and ask her if it’s really such a good idea to drive to Zabakhmutka.

«Taras, if there are people there, we have to be there!»

Can’t argue with that, I think. The car has room only for me and Vlad. Khrystia tries to persuade Volodya to take her as well. No luck.

«How do you imagine this?!» Volodya screams. «You're going to sit on the bags coming back?!?»

«Ok, ok,» Khrystia agrees fatalistically. «Only Taras will go.»

I close the door of the white Lanos and suddenly I’m feeling really scared. Useless Zabakhmutka. I subscribe to a slew of volunteers in Instagram who posted a video showing that evacuation from there was extremely dangerous, even a month ago. I’m curious who will take us away, Volodya and Vlad and me if something hits us? Maybe that British volunteer that we met yesterday with the Bakhmut emergency workers? He was telling us that he was still going into Zabakhmutka but advised us against it. OK. Khrystia will think of something.

Once again, we’re approaching the crossing. A pick-up pullling a large calibre gun on a trailer flies past us in the direction of Zabakhmutka. In the opposite direction, a pick-up is evacuating wounded soldiers. Volodya stops the car and gets out, scratching the back of his head and checking whether his Lanos will make it across the pontoon bridge.

«We'll make it,» Volodya concludes. «But we need to throw some rocks and bricks down so that the car has a smooth entry and the bottom doesn’t get dinged.

«That's great!» I think. «Yesterday the emergency worker explained to me that the russians are deliberately striking this crossing and here we are going to gather stones so that your Lanos has a smooth landing.»

The ground is frozen and we can’t dig anything out of it. Two soldiers are sitting in a trench nearby, watching us as though we’re loonies. Cracking the bumper and scratching the bottom, Volodya’s Lanos nevertheless makes it across the bridge.

«Go down this street, straight, straight, straight and turn right at the end,» Vlad instructs.

We’re there. Near the house, an elderly woman is waiting for us, Vlad’s grandmother.

«Good morning. God in heaven, we won’t be able to take you with us,» Volodya blurts out.

«How can that be?» the grandmother cries.

«You want a shell to fly in and blow you up? So forgive me, but you’re staying here.»

«They also said not to change their clothes. They’ll be placed in bags just as they are,» Vlad explained to his grandmother.

We go into the yard, along a fence marked «PEOPLE.» Volodya takes out a black bag and together with Vlad, they go into the garden. There lies what is left of Vlad’s mother. The remains are covered in frost. I can see a bone cut as cleanly as though with a razor blade. Volodya and Vlad collect the body into the black bag. The smell of raw meat hits my nostrils. That smell will follow me for a few more days and then suddenly disappear. The first time I experienced this smell was six months ago in Vuhledar.

Volodya and Vlad pull the black bag past the building, tripping over bits of rubble scatterd in the yard. They carry the body to the car. Volodya notices that I keep filming.

«Put that camera away!» he blurts. «We won’t be able to stow the body in the car just the two of us.»

I go to the other side of the car, lean halfway into the interior and start pulling the bag towards me. It’s heavy, but finally the bag is inside. I turn the camera on again and we return for the second body, Vlad’s father. Vlad walks to the cellar and moves away the rubble under which the body lies. The grandmother wails even louder:

«I asked them to leave, I begged so hard!

A cat is running around the yard missing a back paw. Somewhere beyond the back yards you can hear machine gun bursts. From time to time there’s a thud. I press myself to the wall and understand that next to me there’s a hole from yesterday’s impact.

Finally we get the body. The man’s legs have been blown off. He’s dressed in ordinary at-home wear, all covered in dust and trash.

«Vlad, look for the keys,» his grandmother asks through tears. Vlad rifles through the pockets of his father’s windbreaker, takes out the key and the phone and says to himself:

«My poor parents. They did not deserve this.»

«Hurry up, Vlad, make it quick. We don’t have time for this,» Volodya yells.

Together, they raise the body and put him into the bag. The familiar sound of the zipper echoes. There’s a second bag in the car. The grandmother follows them out, places her hand on the rear window, and says, tears streaming down her face:

«Farewell, my dearest ones.»


This was just one day in Bakhmut. I’m leaving the video link in the comments.

Taras, December 27, 2022

[1] Zabakhmutka is a district of Bakhmut, east of the center, where serious fighting has taken place.

Taras, December 27, 2022

[1] Zabakhmutka is a district of Bakhmut, east of the center, where serious fighting has taken place.