The landfill site on the edge of Kherson offers some visible hints here and there, among the piles of rubbish, to what locals and workers say happened in its recent past. Russian flags, uniforms and helmets emerge from the putrid mud, while hundreds of seagulls and dozens of stray dogs scavenge around.
As the Russian occupation of the region was on its last legs over the summer, the site, once a mundane place where residents disposed of their rubbish, became a no-go area, according to Kherson’s inhabitants, fiercely sealed off by the invading forces from presumed prying eyes.
The reason for the jittery secrecy, several residents and workers at the site told the Guardian, was that the occupying forces had a gruesome new purpose there: dumping the bodies of their fallen brethren, and then burning them.
The residents report seeing Russian open trucks arriving to the site carrying black bags that were then set on fire, filling the air with a large cloud of smoke and a terrifying stench of burning flesh.
They believe the Russians were disposing of the bodies of its soldiers killed during the heavy fighting of those summer days.
“Every time our army shelled the Russians there, they moved the remains to the landfill and burned them,” says Iryna, 40, a Kherson resident.
Ukraine’s attempts to gain momentum and retake the southern city began at the end of June when long-awaited US-made Himars long-range rockets finally reached one the frontlines there. Kyiv was making good use of them to badly damage bridges across the Dnipro, destroy Russian ammunition dumps and strike enemy artillery and forces.
It was around this time, the residents said, that they first started to fear a new use for the site.
It is not possible to independently verify the claims, and Ukrainian authorities said they could not comment on whether the allegations were being investigated. The Guardian visited the landfill, located on the north-western outskirts of the town, five days after Kherson’s liberation and spoke to employees of the site as well as several more of the town’s residents, who backed up the claims made by others in the summer.
“The Russians drove a Kamaz full of rubbish and corpses all together and unloaded,” said a rubbish collector from Kherson who asked not to be named. “Do you think someone was gonna bury them? They dumped them and then dumped the trash over them, and that’s it.”
He said he did not see if bodies belonged to soldiers or civilians. “I didn’t see. I’ve said enough. I’m not scared, I’ve been fighting this war since 2014. Been to Donbas.
“But the less you know, the better you sleep,” he added, citing a Ukrainian saying. Fear is still alive among the residents who lived for eight months under a police state, in which the Russian authorities did not tolerate the slightest hint of dissent. The price was arrest, or worse: death.
Svitlana Viktorivna, 45, who together with her husband, Oleksandr, has been bringing waste to the landfill for years in their truck, said a Russian checkpoint had…