More than 15,000 people disappeared during the war in Ukraine, an official with the International Commission on Missing Persons has said.
The Hague-based organization, created in the wake of the Balkan wars of the 1990s, opened an office in Kyiv in July to help Ukraine document and locate missing people.
ICMP’s program director for Europe, Matthew Holliday, said it was unclear how many people had been forcibly transferred, were being held in Russia, were alive and separated from family members or had died and had been buried in makeshift graves.
The process of investigating the missing in Ukraine will last for years even after the fighting has stopped, Holliday told Reuters.
The figure of 15,000 is conservative considering that in the port city of Mariupol alone, authorities estimate that up to 25,000 people are dead or missing.
“The numbers are huge and the challenges facing Ukraine are vast. In addition, they are also waging an ongoing war against the Russian Federation,” Holliday said.
He was speaking after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy demanded that the United Nations punish Russia for airstrikes on civilian infrastructure after a missile barrage plunged Ukrainian cities into freezing darkness.
By storing DNA samples in a database and searching for matches with relatives, the ICMP has identified more than 27,000 of the 40,000 people who went missing during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.
In Kyiv, the ICMP has started collecting DNA samples and is building capacity for a multi-year process that will also help prosecutors build war crimes cases.
“What is essential now is to put in place all the appropriate measures to ensure that as many people as possible can be identified,” Holliday said.
“The vast majority of missing persons, those who have died, are victims of war crimes, and the perpetrators must be held accountable.”
Ukraine restored power to two of its four nuclear power plants on Thursday, but much of the country remained plunged into freezing darkness by the most devastating Russian airstrikes to date on its energy infrastructure.
Seen from space, Ukraine has become a dark spot on the globe overnight, satellite images released by NASA have shown, following repeated barrages of Russian missiles in recent weeks.
With temperatures dropping below zero, authorities were scrambling to turn lights and heating back on.
Russia’s latest missile barrage has killed 10 people and shut down all Ukrainian nuclear power plants for the first time in 40 years.
Kyiv regional authorities said power had been restored to three-quarters of the capital on Thursday morning and water was working again in some areas.
Transport was operational again 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.
In the early evening, officials said a reactor at one of them, the Khmelnytskyi nuclear power plant, had been reconnected to the grid.
The vast Zaporizhzhia power plant, located in Russian-held territory, also had to activate emergency diesel power, but it was also reconnected on Thursday, Ukrainian nuclear energy company Energoatom said.
Russia admits attacking basic infrastructure, saying its aim is to reduce Ukraine’s ability to fight and pressure it to negotiate.
Ukraine says such attacks are clearly aimed at harming civilians, making them a war crime.
Russia and Ukraine exchanged 50 prisoners of war on Thursday in another organized exchange.
“Today we have recovered 50 Ukrainian fighters captive in Russia,” Adrii Yermak, head of the presidential office, reported on his Telegram channel.
He added that the exchanged Ukrainians included sailors, border guards, soldiers and members of the national guard.
The Russian Ministry of Defense in Moscow confirmed the exchange.
The exchange brings the total number of Ukrainian prisoners of war recovered from the Russian side to 1,269, according to Ukrainian authorities, including 71 exchanged earlier this week.
Trading generally took place on a one-to-one basis.
- Russia, Ukraine Blame Each Other Over Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant Attack
- Russia Accused of ‘Kidnapping’ Head of Ukraine Nuclear Plant
- Ukraine targets Russians at nuclear plant
- Missile hits near Ukraine plant, 12 hurt
- Ukraine Condemns Russian “Terror” After Damage To Nuclear Plant