The first of Ukraine's fallen soldiers are starting to return home.
At a Ukrainian Greek Catholic church in the country's western city of Lviv, which has so far been spared the worst of Russia's invasion, hundreds gathered Tuesday to receive the bodies of 44-year-old Viktor Dudar and 24-year-old Ivan Koverznev.
Dudar was a journalist-turned-soldier. Koverznev was a lieutenant. Both men were killed by Russian forces a week into the invasion.
A U.S. defense analyst estimates more than 1,500 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the first five days of the war. The Ukrainian military tells NPR it isn't disclosing the number of soldiers lost so far in the fighting.
But even without an official death count, the toll of Russia's invasion is already becoming more visible in towns and cities across Ukraine.
After the funeral, at Lviv's Lychakiv Cemetery, as the coffins were lowered into their graves, an old colleague of Dudar's — another journalist-turned-soldier who had come to pay his respects — looked on, certain there would be many more funerals to come.
"A lot of people are going to be killed from Lviv," he said.
Next to his friend's final resting place sat three other open graves awaiting three more soldiers who were to be put to rest later that night.
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
Graham Smith is a Senior Producer on NPR's Investigations team and winner of the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for audio reporting. He works with staffers, station reporters and independent journalists to dig deep and create sound-rich, long-form stories and series.