“I feel so lost,” said the elderly in Ukraine who have been left behind

Ukraine — This is not where Nadiya Trubchaninova expected to be at 70 years old, hitchhiking from her village to the shattered town of Bucha to bring her son’s body home for burial.

The questions weigh her down, like the winter coat and boots she still wears to keep warm. Why had Vadym traveled to Bucha, where the Russians were far harsher than those who occupied their village?

Who shot him while he was driving down Yablunska Street, where so many bodies were discovered? And how come she lost her son just one day before the Russians left?

Vadym, 48, is now in a refrigerated truck in a black bag. She has spent more than a week attempting to bring him home for a proper burial after learning that he was discovered and buried by strangers in a yard in Bucha. But he is just one of hundreds of bodies being examined as part of a global investigation into war crimes.

Trubchaninova is one of the many elderly people who have been left behind or who have chosen to remain as millions of Ukrainians have fled across borders or to other parts of the country.

They were the first to be seen on empty streets after the Russians left Kyiv’s communities, peering through wooden gates or carrying bags of donated food back to their freezing homes.

Some, like Trubchaninova, made it through the worst of the war only to discover that it had taken their children.

Her last contact with her son was on March 30. She assumed he was going for a walk as part of his lengthy recovery from a stroke. “It would be insane to go any further,” she said. She wonders if he went driving to find a cellphone connection so he could call his own son and wish him a happy birthday.

She wonders if Vadym imagined the Russians in Bucha to be like those who occupied their village and told them they wouldn’t be hurt if they didn’t fight back.

More than a week later, she discovered his makeshift grave with the assistance of a stranger who shared her son’s name and age. The next day, she discovered Vadym’s body bag in a Bucha cemetery. He was always tall, and his foot protruded from a hole in the corner. She found a scarf and tied it around his neck, fearful of losing him. It’s her identity.

She believes she has located her son’s body, which is now in a refrigerator truck outside Bucha’s morgue. She wants to find an official who can speed up the process of having her son checked out and getting the documents he needs to be released.

She explained that she worries about where he’ll go and whether she’ll be able to find him.

She’ll need a casket once she’s collected his body. A casket costs the equivalent of a month’s pension, or about $90. She, like many other elderly Ukrainians, has not received her pension since the beginning of the war. She makes a living by selling the vegetables she grows, but the potatoes she planned to plant in March died while she was hiding in her house.

Her phone’s battery life is dwindling. She has forgotten her phone number. Her other son, two years Vadym’s junior, is unemployed and troubled. Nothing is simple.

“I would walk out of here because I feel it’s so difficult to be here,” Trubchaninova said, sitting at home under a tinted black-and-white photo of herself as a 32-year-old determined woman.

She remembered watching her television in the early days of the war, when it still worked, as broadcasts showed so many Ukrainians fleeing. She was concerned about them. What are their plans? Where are they going to sleep? What are they going to eat? How will they rebuild their lives?

“I felt so bad for them,” she admitted. And now I find myself in that situation. I’m completely disoriented on the inside. I’m at a loss for words to describe how lost I am. I’m not even sure I’ll sleep with my head on this pillow tonight and wake up the next day. “

She worked without taking time for herself, like many Ukrainians her age, determined to give her children an education and a better life than she had. “Those were my plans,” she stated angrily. “What do you want me to do now?” “How can I make new plans when one of my sons is lying in Bucha?”

From Vadym’s old room, where his canes are still propped against the door, she can see the cemetery where she wants to bury her son.

She waited outside the Bucha morgue once more on Thursday. She sat on a bench in the sun after another long day of inaction. “I just wanted to sit outside in nice weather,” she explained. I’m going back home. I’ll return tomorrow.

Across town, there was the kind of closure Trubchaninova craves. Two 82-year-old women stood on a cemetery bench and crossed themselves as the now-familiar white van arrived carrying another casket.

Neonyla and Helena, the women, sing at funerals. They’ve been performing at a ten since the Russians left. “The most painful thing for a mother is to lose her son,” Neonyla explained. “There aren’t any words to describe it.”

They, like Trubchaninova, had not fled ahead of the Russians. They declared, “This is our land.”

They joined the priest at the grave’s foot. Two men carrying tulips and a man holding a cap were present. When the exhausted-looking priest was finished, the gravedigger said, “That’s it.”

Another man scribbled basic information on a temporary cross with a gold-ink pen. It was in memory of a woman who was killed by shelling while cooking outside. She was 69 years old.

A line of empty graves awaited.