22-year-old Andriy, a son of a Pole from Ukraine’s Dnipro, went missing during the fights in the east of the country. “What happened to my child?” Jadwiga Łozińska, who even made it up to pro-Russian separatists during her search, wonders.
In August 2014, Ukrainian troops were surrounded and outnumbered by separatis forces as well as Russian troops near Ilovaisk. The Ukrainians had the chance to meet the conditions by the enemy and leave the encirclement, but on 29 August 2014, contrary to the arrangements, the Russian military brought heavy weapons into action and fired on Ukrainian soldiers.
According to the Ukrainian side, over 366 Ukrainians were killed in Ilovaisk, while 158 are still considered missing, including Jadwiga’s son.
Although the woman has Ukrainian citizenship, she identifies herself as a Pole. Her sentiment to Poland is a reason for her son bearing her surname, not her husband’s.
“My grandparents were Poles who found themselves in Ukraine by circumstance. It seemed to me that it would be easier to build a future in Poland with the Polish surname. Unfortunately, Andriy did not get such a chance,” she said.
For the last time son called her a few days after the battle, and the number was unknown. He said he was taken prisoner by Donbas separatists.
“It was the last time we contacted. Since then, nothing has been heard from him. Suddenly, his surname disappeared from the list of prisoners. What happened to my child?” Jadwiga asks.
According to Ukrainian law, a soldier is assumed to be dead upon three years from the moment of going missing, even if there are indications of his being in captivity. However, Jadwiga keeps pressing for her son being legally treated as a prisoner of war.
“If I accept that he is dead, no one will look for him. And I know the cases of prisoners who were found in prisons of Donetsk and Luhansk, although no one believed they were still alive. There is no evidence that my Andriy was killed. I will not consider him dead until there is the body and a positive DNA test results,” Łozińska stressed.
According the International Red Cross, over 1,500 people representing the two sides have gone missing as a result of the conflict in Donbas.
“In Ukraine, no register of missing persons has yet been created. NGOs are trying to help, but their data are often different. They provide conflicting information to families,” Alina Pavlyuk, a Ukrainian human rights expert, said.
In the wake of the battle of Ilovaisk, Pavlyuk was involved in lending legal assistance to the soldiers’ families; now she is cooperating with the prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. According to her, the Ukrainian side still receives unconfirmed information about a certain number of compatriots jailed in separatist-controlled territories.
“They are between heaven and earth – neither alive nor dead. Their families are still facing the consequences of the lack of legal solutions, for example, when partitioning property or trying to send children abroad without their [missing] father’s consent. It means that it is easier to such families to recognise them dead than to fight against bureaucracy. Despite this, they still do not lose hope,” Pavlyuk said.
As a result of the legal chaos, mothers and wives make attempts to cross the front line and look for their missing themselves.
‘I talked to separatists. The commander of the squad that had captured Andriy confirmed that he had seen him alive. The separatists suggested that he could be kept somewhere,” the mother said.
Monika Andruszewska/PAP, cez/MS, belsat.eu