Exhumation of the bodies of people buried during a Russian occupation, in Borodyanka
Volunteers carty the bodies of people who were buried by a local resident during the Russian occupation of the town of Borodyanka last year, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, after an exhumation at the town's cemetery, outside of Kyiv, Ukraine, March 2, 2023. Reuters

In a corner of Borodianka's town cemetery, the bodies of three men lay buried for a year, to no one's knowledge in the town 55 km (34 miles) northwest of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

The three men, one of whom police have so far tentatively identified, are the latest confirmed dead civilians from Russian forces' march toward Kyiv last spring.

Russia's failed attempt to swiftly capture the capital left at least 1,370 dead civilians before the Ukrainian army pushed them back, according to Ukrainian officials.

The whereabouts of 278 people from the Kyiv region (population 1.8 million) remain unknown, and one year later, it is getting harder to find them or their remains.

Fourteen mass graves were discovered previously and police say the remaining bodies may be in shelled and blackened buildings in towns or dense pine forests around them.

The issue highlights both the scale of civilian suffering around Kyiv and the difficulty in finding remains in a heavily damaged area from which many people fled. Some of the missing may still be alive.

A local man found one of the Borodianka men on about March 8 last year, shot and slumped behind the wheel of a burned car, Kyiv Region Police Chief Andrii Nebytov said on Thursday.

He found the two others in the road, also shot, added Nebytov, as police exhumed the three bodies nearby.

The man buried all three, then moved abroad and only reported his discovery when he returned a year later.

"Sometimes it's very hard for them to talk about cruelty of (the) Russian army," Nebytov told reporters. "As more time comes, it's harder for us to find these bodies."

Police carefully exhumed the bodies, digging them out of the sandy brown soil in Borodianka's cemetery.

From one of the bodies, an officer removed a hat, three packs of cigarettes and a comb, from another body, a baseball cap.

Some of the war's worst civilian massacres occurred near Kyiv in the war's early weeks, with hundreds slain in Borodianka and in the nearby towns of Bucha and Irpin.

Russia has repeatedly denied that its forces committed atrocities or deliberately attacked civilians in Ukraine.

Nebytov said that of the 1,370 dead from Russia's invasion of Kyiv region, about 700 were shot. Some 350 died in shelling, and the rest died because they could not obtain medical help.

More than 71,000 alleged war crimes have been reported in Ukraine since Russia invaded.