Ukraine’s Haunting Challenge: Thousands of Soldiers Still Missing

The Struggle to Identify Ukraine’s Dead Amidst the Ongoing War

In the midst of ongoing conflict, Ukraine is faced with a daunting challenge – identifying the bodies of its fallen soldiers. The pitiful sight of two Ukrainian soldiers, Pvt. Serhiy Matsiuk and Pvt. Andriy Zaretsky, who lay dead in a field for months, encapsulates the struggle. Identified by their relatives from drone footage, the military still lists them as missing. This issue is symptomatic of the country’s broader problem of accounting for its casualties, a task made difficult by the sheer volume of the dead and missing.

Overwhelmed by Casualties

Ukraine’s military is so overwhelmed by casualties that it struggles to account for thousands of dead soldiers. This inability has compounded the grief of many families who are left in the dark about their loved ones’ fates. The exact number of missing soldiers remains undisclosed by the Ukrainian government, but estimates suggest it could be in the thousands. This issue is further complicated by the nature of trench warfare, which often leaves bodies abandoned in buffer zones, making identification even more challenging.

The Pain of Uncertainty

A substantial number of missing soldiers are believed to be in Russian custody. However, others are presumed dead and unidentified, their bodies adding to the backlog in morgues as the government grapples to identify them. This mounting number of missing troops is a heavy blow to Ukraine’s morale, increasing pressure on military leadership and President Zelensky. Civilian frustration has been escalating, resulting in protests demanding more accountability for missing soldiers.

The Difficulty of Identification

Although Ukraine operates 13 DNA laboratories, the process of identification is piecemeal and can take several months. Many families, while clinging to the hope that their loved ones are still alive, are reluctant to submit DNA samples. To bypass this bureaucratic obstacle, some relatives and volunteers have taken it upon themselves to visit morgues, identify bodies from photographs, and collect genetic samples from family members.

Striving for Improvement

A 2022 law aimed to expedite identifications by allowing soldiers to donate genetic samples before deployment. However, the process is still slower than desired. Poor communication from military commanders often exacerbates the situation, leading to more confusion and distress among families of the missing. Despite this, the Ministry of Defense continues its efforts to locate and retrieve remains on the battlefield.

The Financial Toll of the Crisis

While the emotional toll on families is devastating, the crisis also places a substantial financial burden on the government. Until soldiers are officially declared dead, their families continue to receive monthly salaries, potentially amounting to hundreds of millions. Despite the challenges, families and advocates continue to push for more effective identification processes, highlighting the urgent need for solutions in this grim aspect of the ongoing conflict.

Personal Stories of Loss

Personal accounts from relatives of the missing, like Alyona Bondar, whose brother has been missing since September, underscore the desperate need for answers. On the battlefield, soldiers like Mykola, who survived the attack that killed Pvt. Zaretsky and Pvt. Matsiuk, risk their lives to retrieve the bodies of their fallen comrades. As he said, “I just feel the need to at least bury them.” As the war drags on, these stories highlight the human cost of the conflict, the struggle for closure, and the urgent need for solutions to identify Ukraine’s dead.