In Ukraine Relatives hold on to missing in war-torn east region

In August 2014, Anastasiya Chub could not wait to share wonderful news with her husband -- that she was pregnant with the couple's second child.

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Anastasiya Chub lived through a painful, ineffectual search by police investigators and prosecutors the year after her husband Sergiy went missing in eastern Ukraine, even reaching out to fortune tellers as she tried everything to get any news of him play

Anastasiya Chub lived through a painful, ineffectual search by police investigators and prosecutors the year after her husband Sergiy went missing in eastern Ukraine, even reaching out to fortune tellers as she tried everything to get any news of him

(AFP)
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In August 2014, Anastasiya Chub could not wait to share wonderful news with her husband -- that she was pregnant with the couple's second child.

But her joy quickly turned to grief and despair when she learned that Sergiy, who was fighting Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, had gone missing after his unit was ambushed on the frontline.

"The phone connection with him was lost," the 33-year-old blonde from Mariupol, a major Kiev-controlled city close to the war zone, said.

Chub only learned that her husband had been listed as missing after she contacted a phone hotline for military relatives.

The following year, she lived through a painful, ineffectual search by police investigators and prosecutors, even reaching out to fortune tellers as she tried everything to get any news of her husband.

"I was ready to pay money to unreliable people," Chub said, displaying a picture of her husband he sent her from the frontline.

"Someone told me that he was in captivity in Russia. And I was keen to believe it."

But a year after Sergiy's disappearance, his fellow soldiers from the pro-Kiev volunteer Donbas battalion helped Chub uncover what they said were his remains, alongside bones of dozens of other troops.

The remnants were found near Ilovaisk -- a town in southeast Ukraine close to the border with Russia that saw one of the bloodiest clashes in the 38-month conflict with some 400 Ukrainian soldiers killed and more than 150 reported missing.

'Between heaven and earth'

Although some soldiers said they saw Sergiy die in a shelling and his presumed remains are already buried, his official status remains unchanged: "missing".

"Someone told me that he was in captivity in Russia. And I was keen to believe it," Chub said of her husband, a Ukrainian soldier who is one of the over 600 cases of missing persons from war-torn east Ukraine play

"Someone told me that he was in captivity in Russia. And I was keen to believe it," Chub said of her husband, a Ukrainian soldier who is one of the over 600 cases of missing persons from war-torn east Ukraine

(AFP)

"The DNA identification procedures are still under way and meanwhile my husband remains between heaven and earth," Chub said.

More than 10,000 people have been killed and nearly 24,000 others injured since the pro-Russian insurgency began in April 2014.

But this tally does not include the several thousand people listed as missing, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

"Over 600 cases of missing persons registered with the ICRC remain unsolved," Raphael Tenaud, head of the ICRC office in Mariupol, told AFP.

"Around half of the overall ICRC caseload since the beginning of the conflict concerns civilians who have disappeared."

Valeriy Kraynikov, who lives across the frontline from Chub, understands the data all too well.

Kraynikov's son Oleksandr, 45, left his native city of Horlivka -- an industrial hub just a few kilometres northeast of the rebels' de facto capital Donetsk -- immediately after the unrest began as he did not agree with the new authorities' policy.

In June 2014, the businessman returned home just for one day to visit his 67-year-old father but has not been seen alive since.

Valeriy was told by witnesses that his son was captured by armed men of Igor Bezler, one of the notorious leaders of the local pro-Russian battalion.

"Most likely, he was abducted only because he expressed his position on the authorities," the blue-eyed Kraynikov told AFP in the kitchen of his apartment.

Kraynikov appealed to the rebel leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic as well as to the Kiev authorities and international organisations, but no one was able to tell him anything about his son's whereabouts.

In June 2014, Valeriy Kraynikov's son Oleksandr returned to his native city of Horlivka to visit his 67-year-old father but has not been seen alive since play

In June 2014, Valeriy Kraynikov's son Oleksandr returned to his native city of Horlivka to visit his 67-year-old father but has not been seen alive since

(AFP)

"The local authorities (imposed by rebels) gave me a paltry answer that he was missing and so far nothing has been heard," he said.

Kraynikov added that he even received threats and hints that it would be better for him "to stop talking too much or leave the city." But the man stood firm.

He has taken it upon himself to search all the local cemeteries but has found no information about his son. He still has hope however that one day he will see Oleksandr alive.

Searches for missing people are very slow during armed conflicts, Tenaud said.

"We must be prepared that such searches can take many years."

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