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More than 15,000 missing in Ukraine war

The Hague-based International Commission on Missing Persons estimates more than 15,000 people have gone missing during the war in Ukraine.

November 25, 2022
25 November 2022

More than 15,000 people have gone missing during the war in Ukraine, an official at the International Commission on Missing Persons says.

The Hague-based organisation, created following the Balkan wars of the 1990s, opened an office in Kyiv in July to help Ukraine to document and track down missing people.

The ICMP’s programme director for Europe, Matthew Holliday, said it was unclear how many people had been forcibly transferred, were being held in detention in Russia, were alive and separated from their family members or had died and had been buried in makeshift graves.

The process of investigating the missing in Ukraine will last years even after fighting stops, Holliday told Reuters.

The 15,000 figure is conservative when considering that in the port city of Mariupol alone authorities estimate as many as 25,000 people are either dead or missing.

“The numbers are huge and the challenges that Ukraine faces are vast. Besides which they’re fighting an ongoing war as well against the Russian Federation,” Holliday said.

He was speaking after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy demanded that the United Nations punish Russia for air strikes on civilian infrastructure after a missile barrage plunged Ukraine’s cities into freezing darkness.

By storing DNA samples on a database and seeking matches with relatives, the ICMP accounted for more than 27,000 out of 40,000 persons reported missing during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

In Kyiv, the ICMP has started to collect DNA samples and is ramping up capacity for a multi-year process that will also help prosecutors build war crimes cases.

“What is key now is setting in place all the correct measures to ensure that as many persons can be identified,” Holliday said.

“The vast majority of missing persons, those deceased, are victims of war crimes, and the perpetrators need to be held responsible.”

Ukraine restored power on Thursday to two of its four nuclear power plants but much of the country remained consigned to freezing darkness by the most devastating Russian air strikes on its energy infrastructure so far.

Viewed from space, Ukraine has become a dark patch on the globe at night, satellite images released by NASA showed, following repeated barrages of Russian missiles in recent weeks.

With temperatures falling below zero, authorities were working to get the lights and heat back on. 

Russia’s latest missile barrage killed 10 people and shut down all of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants for the first time in 40 years.

Regional authorities in Kyiv said power had been restored to three quarters of the capital by Thursday morning and water was working again in some areas. 

Transport was back up and running in the city, with buses replacing electric trams.

Authorities hoped to restart the three nuclear power plants in Ukrainian-held territory by the end of the day. 

By early evening, officials said a reactor at one of them, the Khmelnytskyi nuclear plant, had been reconnected to the grid.

The vast Zaporizhzhia plant in Russian-held territory also had to activate backup diesel power but it too was reconnected on Thursday, Ukrainian nuclear power company Energoatom said.

Russia acknowledges attacking basic infrastructure, saying its aim is to reduce Ukraine’s ability to fight and push it to negotiate. 

Ukraine says such attacks are clearly intended to harm civilians, making them a war crime.

Russia and Ukraine swapped 50 prisoners of war on Thursday in another organised exchange.

“Today we recovered 50 Ukrainian fighters from Russian captivity,” Adrii Yermak, head of the presidential office, reported on his Telegram channel.

He added that the swapped Ukrainians included sailors, border guards, soldiers and members of the national guard.

The Russian Defence Ministry in Moscow confirmed the swap.

The swap raises to 1269 the total number Ukrainian prisoners of war recovered from the Russian side, according to the Ukrainian authorities, with 71 swapped earlier this week. 

The swaps have taken place in general on a one-for-one basis.

with DPA

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