Learn at least something. How Ukrainians are searched for missing during the war | Ukraine and Ukrainians: a view from Europe | DW

Natalya Huzar, along with other women, took to the streets of Kyiv with a portrait of her son in order to get at least some information about his fate. The woman does not hold back her emotions: “I’m sorry for the tears, but every minute you do something, eat just mechanically, but at the same time you think if your child ate … You go to bed and think, where does your child go to bed, and does he sleep generally?”.

According to the Commissioner for missing persons under special circumstances, Oleg Kotenko, more than seven thousand Ukrainian soldiers are considered missing. To find at least some clue what happened to the military, their relatives monitor Russian social networks, hoping that a loved one was captured.

Often you have to look in morgues. Often, relatives take DNA tests to recognize bodies. Ruslan Abbasov, director of one of the Kyiv laboratories, says hundreds of DNA samples come to them every day looking for their relatives. According to him, in 3-10 percent of cases, the results are the same. Abbasov says that what is a good result for the laboratory, that is, a coincidence, is the worst news for parents. “For parents, in fact, it is better that there are no coincidences, because they believe that their son is either alive, or in captivity, or will come soon,” Abbasov notes.

Search for prisoners of war

Russian lawyer Nikolai Polozov worked in 2018 on the return of Ukrainian sailors from captivity to the Russian Federation. Now his team has founded the Poshuk.Polon project to search for Ukrainian prisoners of war in Russia. Ukrainian and Russian experts are involved in the project, who monitor the possible stay of the missing Ukrainian fighters. According to the lawyer, one of the biggest problems is the lack of data about the Ukrainian soldiers who were taken prisoner.

Nikolai Polozov

Nikolai Polozov

Unlike Ukraine, Russia has not formed an information and reference bureau for prisoners of war. it violates international humanitarian lawin particular the Third Geneva Convention. The Kremlin explains this by saying that Russia is not waging any war. According to Polozov, it is beneficial for the Russian Federation to hide information about the majority of prisoners of war, because then it should not disclose the crimes committed against the Ukrainian military.

“We know that they are tortured, starved and do other terrible things that we learn from those prisoners who nevertheless got under the exchange and were released,” Polozov says in a conversation with DW.

Nikolai Polozov believes that most of the captives will be able to be exchanged, because Russia will not physically be able to open such a number of criminal cases. It also makes no sense to keep thousands of fighters, except for the purpose of preventing them from returning to the front line. The situation with the command, in his opinion, will be different. “We are talking about commanders, about some representatives of the Azov regiment, about some media figures that Russian propaganda will demonize,” says Polozov. These Ukrainians will need to organize human rights support. It is for this that Polozov’s team has Russian lawyers. According to him, now the only possible way to return the Ukrainian military home is through an exchange.

Find your

Not only the military, but also civilians are missing. In addition to the state, volunteers are engaged in their search. One of the biggest projects, Know Your Own, was launched by Ukrainian TV presenter Ekaterina Osadchaya. Thousands of relatives of missing civilians turn to the project volunteers every month, Osadchaya says. In their work, activists use a variety of sources – databases of evacuees, lists of the wounded in hospitals, lists of people in bomb shelters, local state institutions on the ground, and even representatives of the so-called “DNR/LNR”. “We are a kind of link. A link that unites people with information, and a link that tries to find people on the ground,” explains the founder of the “Know Your Own” project.

Ekaterina Osadchaya

Ekaterina Osadchaya

According to Osadchaya, one of the major challenges Ukraine faces is civilians, Ukrainians, in Russian captivity. This is a challenge, since prisoners of war have an internationally secured status – unlike civilians. “How can the authorities change military and civilians? If a guy or a girl is military, then it’s clear how to exchange a military man for a military man. But how to exchange a civilian?” Osadchaya says.

According to the activist, some Ukrainian civilians captured by the Russians are being forced to admit that they are supposedly soldiers. “We have evidence of this, we have interviews with people, I have an interview with a mother who is expecting her civilian son from captivity. A guy was also in captivity, who was exchanged and told that yes, it’s true,” said in a conversation with DW Osadchaya. In her opinion, the Russians are doing this to replenish their exchange fund.

According to Kateryna Osadchaya, there is also information that captured Ukrainian civilians kept in inhumane conditions, sometimes even in the same cell with Russian detainees. This is also confirmed by Nikolai Polozov: “As far as I know, some civilians are kept without trial or investigation at all in Russian pre-trial detention centers.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), responding to a DW request about the situation of Ukrainian civilians in Russian captivity, noted that “they do not comment on individual cases and never give a public assessment of such cases.” At the same time, the ICRC representative, in a conversation with DW, noted that the situation with civilians in captivity is generally difficult, because the issue of releasing civilians from captivity is not prescribed by international humanitarian law, unlike the release of the military. This means that it is not clear by what rules to return civilians from captivity. The representative of the ICRC recommends that families in which their close civilians have been captured and who are being passed off as military contact the Red Cross.

Pull all the strings

Despite all the difficulties, the process of exchange between Ukraine and Russia is taking place, and the search for the missing continues. Within the framework of the “Know Your Own” project alone, over the past month, it was possible to find about fifty people. Ekaterina Osadchaya advises: if you have lost a loved one, you need to “pull all the strings” – inform the police, the National Information Bureau, contact the call center of the Commissioner for Missing Persons, cooperate with volunteers. “And do not lose hope for the return of a loved one,” Osadchaya emphasized.

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