Red Cross probing fate of thousands missing in Russia-Ukraine war

Geneva, Switzerland - The Red Cross said Monday it was trying to find out what happened to 23,000 people who have disappeared in the chaos of Russia's war in Ukraine.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is working to determine whether 23,000 Russians and Ukrainians reported missing have been captured, killed, or lost contact while fleeing their homes.
The International Committee of the Red Cross is working to determine whether 23,000 Russians and Ukrainians reported missing have been captured, killed, or lost contact while fleeing their homes.  © Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was seeking to determine whether they had been captured, killed, or had lost contact after fleeing their homes.

Shortly after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the ICRC created a special bureau of its Central Tracing Agency (CTA) dedicated to searching for those missing on both sides in the conflict.

"Not knowing what happened to a loved one is excruciating, and this is the tragic reality for tens of thousands of families, who live in a state of constant anguish," CTA bureau chief Dusan Vujasanin said in a statement.

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"Families have the right to know what happened to their relatives and, when possible, to exchange news with them."

The ICRC said that over the past two years it had received more than 115,000 phone calls, online requests, letters, and in-person visits from desperate family members from both Russia and Ukraine looking for missing relatives.

By the end of January, the organization and its partners had helped provide 8,000 families with information, it said.

Red Cross helps Russians and Ukrainians trace their loved ones

The International Committee of the Red Cross' Russia-Ukraine division is its Central Tracing Agency's largest operation since World War II.
The International Committee of the Red Cross' Russia-Ukraine division is its Central Tracing Agency's largest operation since World War II.  © Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The statement quoted some of their reactions after receiving news about a loved one.

"I didn't hear anything for about two months. I felt dead during this time," it quoted one person as saying after hearing their son was alive.

Vujasanin stressed however that many other families "remain without news."

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The ICRC set up its CTA system more than 150 years ago.

But the Russia-Ukraine division is the first dedicated CTA bureau set up for a specific international armed conflict in more than 30 years and is its largest operation since World War II.

It acts as a neutral intermediary between Russia and Ukraine, collecting, centralizing, safeguarding, and transmitting information from one side to the other.

The ICRC stressed that families have a right under international law to know the fate and whereabouts of their missing relatives.

"People who are held by a party to the conflict must be treated humanely and the dead must be handled in a dignified manner," it said.

Cover photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

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