Padraig O’Keeffe, a Kiskeam native and former French Foreign Legionnaire and someone who has worked as a security contractor in some of the world’s most unstable hotspots made a grim discovery this week when his specially trained K9 urban search and rescue dog, Cooper, located his first cadaver (corpse).
Padraig, who has only recently arrived in Ukraine has spent his time so far in the country combing through the devastated region of Borodyanka in the Bucha Raion of Kyiv Oblast of Ukraine and it was here this past Monday that he and Cooper found the human remains buried under the rubble of what seems to have been a trench.
Padraig spoke to The Corkman on Wednesday and described how he and Cooper had made the discovery of the body.
"It was a collapsed trench position. As we were working our way down the lane, Cooper was doing his thing when he broke off left to where the trench line - before it was either filled in or collapsed in - would have run across the laneway and there was a hole there with kind of clothing and stuff in it,” said Padraig.
He [Cooper] got into the hole, came back out and he worked a little way around it. I followed him and I actually got the smell myself but he went back in he got his nose right into it again and he gave me a vocal alert indication,” he continued.
Going on, Padraig that so little of the body remained that you would struggle to define it as a corpse at all.
"Now, I don't know could you even call it a corpse. It would have to be fully excavated to define that but what the dog [Cooper] hit on was part of the uniform or the clothing - which was completely discoloured obviously - and it was if the body had kind of melted into the uniform. It was total liquification, it was totally liquified and it had gone through all the stages of decomposition,” he said.
"As I got down, I could see the clumps of, I don't know to describe it, clumps of human hair with flesh still attached to it,” he continued.
After confirming that it was in fact human remains that they had discovered, Padraig reported the discovery to his liaison who took a note of the location.
Further down the road from this first discovery as he and Cooper continued their search for more survivors or bodies, Padraig described how and Cooper discovered another potential body buried in the ground of an open area fied.
"After this, I brought Cooper further down the lane and we came into an open area field with houses to the left, houses to the right and a shed area to the front of us. Now, there had been a lot of debris there because there was a pile of it [debris] stacked at the edge and site had been cleaned as such. Now, I was told that area, down that laneway, was notorious for torture and execution by Russian troops," he said.
"I let Cooper go and he got into work mode and he started going around the location but he just kept coming back to one particular spot in the field. He didn't give me any sort of vocal alert indication because he is totally new to finding body parts of human cadavers as such because I'd have trained in human teeth and hair," he continued.
"He [the liaison] came running up to the site asking if we'd found someone but there was no visible signs of anyone so it was quite possibly a body that had been buried. He was asking me or percentages and I told him that I could go 50/50 on whether there was someone buried there and his response was 'look, even if it's just a 1 percent chance that it's one of ours buried there, it's worth the excavation.
He took a note of the location, he made a couple of calls and put in the request for the site to be excavated,” he added, before noting that with he did not know when this site would be dug up, saying that it could be a week, a month or longer before an excavation is done.
As for he himself is handling the extremely trying task he is embarked on, Padraig that you don't have time to focus on it and that you are there to do a job to the best of your ability.
"We don't dwell on it then after that. Our job is to locate these bodies so that location can be noted," he said.
Finally, Padraig has set up a Go Fund Me page to help cover the estimated €20,000 cost of the search and rescue mission in Ukraine and he is asking that if people can donate anything at all to the cause, to please do so. The link to the fundraiser can be found here.