The attack killed at least 52 people, around one-sixth the population of this village that holds no apparent strategic value in the war and is 30 miles from the front line city of Kupyansk. At least one of the dead is a young boy.
On Friday, emergency workers started clearing space from a wooded area beside the village’s cemetery to make room for all the newly dead. By Saturday, more than 20 empty graves sat waiting.
That the Androsovyches could be buried so soon after they were killed suggested they were not as badly maimed in the attack as some other victims who will be more difficult to identify due to the severity of their wounds.
Their son, Dmytro, had chosen their burial spot in the cemetery with relatives the day before. His sister, Katerina, who arrived Saturday from Slovakia, wept by her parents’ tombs. She told reporters she had spoken to her mother Thursday morning and that she had promised to get back in touch after attending the funeral and reception for Andriy Kozyr, a local soldier. “But you see, she never called me back,” the daughter said.
In some cases, family members of the deceased will need to conduct DNA tests to collect their relatives’ burned and disfigured remains. On Saturday, morgue workers in the regional capital of Kharkiv continued to sift through dozens of bodies and body parts. A pile of numbered tags for flesh and body fragments sat on the front steps of the building.
Many people in Hroza believe Thursday’s strike was called after a fellow villager informed Russian troops that a large gathering was taking place. Russia occupied the village soon after it launched its full-scale invasion on Ukraine in February 2022, and Ukrainian troops then retook the territory in a surprise counteroffensive last fall. But locals said some residents remain loyal to Russia.
Even so, it remains unclear what any military objective in striking the funeral reception could have been. The vast majority of those killed at the cafe and grocery store destroyed in the strike appear to have been civilians. Washington Post reporters observing the identification process at the morgue on Friday saw only one body in military uniform. The rest largely wore jeans, sweaters and flannels. Some bodies were missing limbs or heads. On Saturday, body bags still lined the hallways. Now these villagers’ graves are being prepared in the same cemetery where they attended Kozyr’s funeral just before the attack at the reception killed them.
In that cemetery on Saturday, grieving friends and relatives lined up to gently place flowers on the Androsovyches’ coffins, taking turns comforting each other in what will likely be the first of dozens of funerals in the coming days. Photos from happier days were placed on top of each coffin, showing mourners what they had just lost: Tetiana beaming with short black hair in a striped shirt and scarf; gray-haired Mykola grinning in front of flowered wallpaper.
Four Ukrainian soldiers, one holding a bouquet of pink roses in his hand, stood off to the side as a priest recited the burial ceremony and read from his bible.
Air raid sirens rang multiple times in the Kharkiv region on Saturday, even as families worked to identify and bury their dead. On Friday, as families surveyed land at the cemetery, at least two strikes hit just near Hroza. Another struck Kharkiv city early Friday, killing one child and wounding dozens of others. On Saturday morning, crews were still clearing debris from the area in the city that was hit. Debris covered much of the street, and windows were blown out in office and residential buildings.
Serhiy Menko, 43, who was helping clean out a damaged dental clinic, said he thinks a local may have seen some military presence near the strike site and encouraged Russian forces to hit the area. He is bracing for more attacks on critical infrastructure this autumn and winter, he said, as Moscow may again try to weaken Ukrainian resolve in the coldest months of the year.
“The worst part is we think someone inside the city is leaking information,” he said.
“Of course,” he added, “in Hroza too.”
Kostiantyn Khudov contributed to this report from Kyiv. Anastacia Galouchka and Heidi Levine contributed from Kharkiv. Viacheslav Polovyi contributed from Hroza.