Two years on, thousands of Ukrainians search for their missing relatives

Iryna Reva searches for her son who went missing in battle.
Iryna Reva searches for her son who went missing in battle. Copyright Evgeniy Maloletka/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Tamsin PaternosterAP
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In Ukraine, 30,000 people remain missing since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion, their relatives refuse to give up hope.


Iryna Reva is the mother to one of the 30,000 people reported missing to Ukraine's National Police in the 24 months since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began. 

Vladyslav, 25, vanished form the frontline in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region 19 months ago. 

“Up to this day, I am searching for my son,” Reva commented. “He is alive to me. Regardless of the circumstances, there is no evidence that he has perished.”

The missing people do not only include soldiers that have vanished from the battlefield, but also civilians in Ukraine who have disappeared without a trace.

Tetiana Khvostenko’s husband Oleh was last seen in the summer of 2022 in the occupied city of Dniprorudne in the Zaporizhzhia region when the Russian military detained him as he went to pick up his car. From that point, he vanished.

Oleh’s relatives, who remained in the occupied territory and therefore can’t be named for security concerns, tried to get information about why he was detained. They visited the military commandant’s office many times learning he’d been handed over to the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB. From there, the trail went cold.

“For 36 years, I’ve had a man by my side. And now he is gone. It’s like being without an arm or a leg, I don’t know. It’s hard,” Tetiana said.

Relatives who are living in a state of limbo, devoid of information about their loved ones often start their official search by providing a DNA sample to the Ukrainian National Police. DNA samples can also be provided from abroad, if the relatives of the missing person have left Ukraine 

DNA is a vital part of establishing the status of the missing person, especially if they are military. Even if fellow soldiers said they witnessed a soldier killed in battle, it's not enough to confirm the death, said Petro Yatsenko, the head of a press office at the Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of POWs.

In cases where DNA testing has led to a dead end, various volunteer projects have sprung up to aid families who have received little to no information from authorities. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has helped around 8,000 families gain information on their loved ones. 

As of February, the ICRC has received more than 115,000 requests from families to trace loved ones in Ukraine and Russia.

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