Send Letter eng
Advocacy

38 thousand missing Ukrainians: how to find and identify people

The Unified Register of Persons Missing in Special Circumstances currently contains about 38,000 Ukrainians. The hot phase of the war complicates their search and identification. And the more time passes, the lower the chances of finding people. The experience of other wars evidences this. For example, in the city of Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the genocide of Bosnian Muslim men took place almost 30 years ago, the bodies of more than a thousand victims have not yet been found or identified.

Speaking about the missing Ukrainians, Olena Belyachkova, coordinator of the groups of families of POWs and missing persons at the MIHR, emphasizes that Russia mostly does not confirm the detention of Ukrainian service members or civilians. Moreover, it does not allow representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit them, constantly moves them and conceals them. Because of this, Ukraine cannot establish whether a person has died or is being held captive by the Russian Federation.

— “Ukraine needs the help of the international community to put pressure on the ICRC, which is not fulfilling its main humanitarian mission in Russia’s war against Ukraine!” Belyachkova emphasized. “It is the ICRC that should confirm the detention of civilians and prisoners of war, as well as the places where they are being held. The ICRC should visit these people to facilitate communication between them, their families, and the outside world. If this were done, we would know more precisely who is missing and dead and who is in captivity. In addition, it is the ICRC that should have helped to find the bodies of the dead and return them to their families. But this is not happening!

Olena Belyachkova, coordinator of the groups of families of POWs and missing persons at the MIHR (center)

The MIHR also states that Russia does not allow or guarantee security to groups searching for missing persons, including in the gray zone and in areas where fighting has been ongoing. For example, Olesia Aulina, a representative of the NGO United by the Sea and wife of Damir Aulin, the commander of the boat Sloviansk, has been unable to find out the fate of her husband for more than two years. After a Russian missile hit the ship on March 3, 2022, Damir was reported missing. Since then, Russia has ignored all of Ukraine’s requests about the fate of the missing sailors, and the boat remains underwater. Due to the danger of damage, divers cannot raise or examine it to try to find the missing sailors.

When presenting the OSCE with an analysis of Ukrainians missing in the context of the war, the MIHR team emphasized that many soldiers have been searched for for years. Among them is Oleksandr Yaremchuk, who was one of the very first to go to defend Ukraine in 2014. His sister Lyudmyla Samborska says they last spoke ten years ago. Telling the diplomats the story of her brother, Samborska noted that he was tasked with evacuating wounded soldiers from the occupied territory of the Donetsk region. Since then, she has had no information about her brother. Lyudmyla urges people to remember those who went missing at the beginning of the war and demands that the international community force Russia to return all the missing persons, both those on the lists and those who are not.

Oleksandr Yaremchuk (left) went missing in 2014, and Damir Aulin (right), commander of the boat Sloviansk, went missing in March 2022

As of now, according to Petro Yatsenko, a representative of the Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War, 51 exchanges have been conducted, and 3135 people have been released from Russian captivity. About a third of them were considered missing. This demonstrates how important it is for Russia to provide lists of prisoners and disclose their places of detention. To recap, the MIHR has created an interactive online map of places where Russia is holding Ukrainians. Currently, there are more than 100 of them.

The OSCE discussed the search for and identification of missing persons. The gold standard here is DNA testing. However, Ukraine lacks the capacity. The state was not ready for such a large number of missing persons and mass examinations. In this context, the experience of the International Commission on Missing Persons is essential, as it already cooperates with Ukrainian law enforcement agencies, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Health.

ICMP representative Alma Mašić, who also participated in the discussion, noted that the Commission works in many countries around the world, and the leading role in the search for missing persons belongs to the families of the missing. For example, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is the families who control the state authorities, so they continue to search for missing persons even 30 years after the war. And the country is doing this —  looking for graves, identifying bodies and remains. Commenting on the situation in Ukraine, Alma Mašić called on the international community to unite and help Ukraine find all the missing persons.

Speakers and participants of the special event of the Media Initiative for Human Rights in the OSCE

In conclusion, Olena Belyachkova of the MIHR emphasized several priority steps that need to be taken. First of all, we must find a way to pressure the International Committee of the Red Cross to force it to fulfill its obligations. Secondly, to ensure access to the places where Ukrainians are being held, to check their health and conditions of detention, and to facilitate the repatriation of the seriously wounded and seriously ill. Thirdly, to oblige Russia to provide objective and truthful information about those it is holding in the temporarily occupied territories and in the Russian Federation, as well as to ensure their right to make phone calls and correspond with their relatives.

The MIHR would like to thank our friends at the Permanent Mission of Ukraine and the International Organizations in Vienna for their support in organizing this special event at the OSCE. We are also grateful for the participation and support of all delegations of OSCE participating States, representatives of missing persons’ families, in particular the NGO United by the Sea, our partners from the Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War and the International Commission on Missing Persons.

0 Comments

Leave a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published. Mandatory fields are marked *

Similar posts
Advocacy
Russia’s persecution of civilian Ukrainians may be a crime against humanity — OSCE reveals new facts

The OSCE has presented a report on violations and abuses of international humanitarian and human rights law, war crimes, and crimes against humanity related to the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of civilian Ukrainians by the Russian Federation. The report was prepared by a mission of OSCE experts within the framework of the Moscow Mechanism, the launch of which the Media Initiative for Human Rights has been advocating for more than a year and a half. During the preparation of the document, the MIHR worked closely with the mission's experts, with facts about Russia's crimes documented by us becoming part of the report.

26 April 2024

Advocacy
The MIHR presented to the OSCE the results of the analysis on the rights and motivation of victims of war crimes

The Media Initiative for Human Rights continues its advocacy visit to the OSCE within the Supplementary Human Dimension Meetings framework. Analyst Lyubov Smachylo and Head of the War Crimes Courts Monitoring Department Oksana Rasulova participated in the event "Challenges of establishing justice in Ukraine for victims of war crimes and their motivation at the national level," organized by the MIHR.

24 April 2024

Advocacy
The film “20 Days in Mariupol” was shown in Brussels. It was followed by a discussion MIHR participated in

Ten films from this year's international Czech festival "One World" were shown in the Belgian capital — the world's largest human rights documentary film event organized by People in Need. The Oscar-winning film "20 Days in Mariupol" by Ukrainian director Mstyslav Chernov was also viewed. Among the audience was Lubov Smachilo, MIHR’ analyst.

23 April 2024

More articles
Our social media
Relevant publications
More articles
Investigations
Over 30 missing Ukrainian media workers: violence, humiliation, and obscurity in occupation

In the occupied territories of Ukraine, Russia systematically persecutes journalists. As of today, MIHR knows of 31 Ukrainian media workers held captive by Russia. Among them are those abducted back in 2014, as well as those captured during the full-scale invasion. According to the Institute of Mass Information, as of May 8, 2024, due to Russian aggression, 80 media workers have died, 10 of whom while in the line of duty. In many cases, the fate of Ukrainian media workers captured by Russia remains unknown.

30 May 2024

War and justice
We call on the Verkhovna Rada not to adopt draft law № 7033-d, which limits access to court decisions

On May 2, 2024, the Parliamentary Legal Committee reviewed and endorsed draft law No. 7033-д for parliamentary consideration. This draft law limits access to information and decisions within the register of court decisions, which hold substantial public interest and are crucial for public oversight of law enforcement activities. The proposed changes undermine the principles of a democratic society and contradict Ukraine’s commitments to European integration.

16 May 2024

Prisoners of war
57th Brigade Soldiers Missing in Action: Heavy Combat, Death, Captivity, and the Search

On the very first day of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the entire territory of the Luhansk region became a battlefield. At that time, the soldiers of the 57th Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade, named after the Kish Otaman Kost Hordiienko, were stationed in the area of Triokhizbenka. A significant number of the brigade's soldiers were captured during that period, and most of them are still held by the Russians, with some considered missing in action. Since then, many families of the 57th Brigade soldiers have been struggling to find and bring back their loved ones. On the second anniversary of the fierce battles for the towns of Novotoshkivka and Toshkivka in Luhansk, MIHR tells the stories of several soldiers of this brigade who are missing in action.

10 May 2024

More articles