Ukraine: The forgotten victims of Donbas

2018/2/17 1:55:42

Wives and mothers are fighting for the return of soldiers who went missing in the conflict between the Ukrainian military and separatists in the Donbas. Florian Neuhof reports on their desperate search for answers.


From Deutsche Welle, Feb 17, 2018


The clouds rippled low across the winter sky as Lubov Konopatska led a procession of mourners to the coffin of her son Serhiy. An old lady with a shaky gait, she wore a thick grey coat to protect her from the chill, a black cloth draped over her hat, and grief on her face.


Her son's coffin was propped up on wooden legs, and flanked by a quartet of soldiers. It stood on a stretch of gravel next to the graveyard on the edge of Shyroka Dacha, an ugly, decaying town somewhere on the vast expanses of the Ukrainian steppe.


Serhiy was killed in the fierce fighting in the summer of 2014, when the Ukrainian army and Russian-backed separatists clashed in the east of the country.


After pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted by the Maidan protests in Kyiv in 2014, ethnic Russians in the Donbas region rose in revolt. The Ukrainian army was sent in to crush the separatists, but Russia poured men and military hardware across its borders, and the Ukrainian advance was soon brought to a halt. The conflict simmers on as a stalemate that occasionally splutters into deadly skirmishes.


Read moreOpinion: Kyiv risks divided Ukraine


Serhiy's unit had been badly mauled in the town of Ilovaisk, where separatists ambushed retreating Ukrainian troops after promising them safe passage. The day before the ambush, Lubov had spoken to her son on the phone one last time before her calls went unanswered.


Searching for their sons


The army could not tell Lubov what had happened to Serhiy, so she got in touch with comrades who had survived the battle, and volunteer groups looking for missing soldiers. She was told that Serhiy had been wounded and brought to the hospital in the city of Kryvyy Rih. He had been captured by the separatists, others said.


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