Fifth year into the conflict in eastern Ukraine, families of the missing continue to need support at multiple levels. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) gathered those who took part in a family needs assessment in 2016 and subsequent cross-checking of needs in 2018 and presented the results.

Last weekend, we invited families of the missing persons in relation to the conflict in eastern Ukraine to Kyiv. Together with the ICRC team working on the issue of the missing, thirty-five members of the families, who had been interviewed as part of a needs assessment exercise in 2016 and 2018, gathered on a snowy morning of 15 December. Representatives of the Tracing Service of the Ukrainian Red Cross Society also joined.

The meeting was an opportunity for the ICRC to update the participants on the results, compiled in a narrative report “Needs Assessment of the Families of Missing Persons in relation to Conflict in Eastern Ukraine.” Relatives of the missing persons appreciated the possibility to talk to others who are looking for their loved ones, hear about developments in relation to the search process and give as well as receive support.

“Families of missing persons are best positioned to talk about their own needs. The report directly transmits their voice and demonstrates their specific difficulties, complex needs and expectations. Responding adequately to the family needs demands a continuous and sustained commitment from communities, local actors and authorities.” – Cleber Kemper, ICRC Deputy Protection Coordinator for Missing & Restoring Family Links

The needs that stem from having a loved one missing can have different nature: legal, psychological, economic, administrative and social. First and foremost, the ICRC has been promoting the “right to know” – that the family members have a right to learn what happened to their missing relative. Secondly, the families of the missing are burdened by economic and financial needs, not only related to the loss of a breadwinner, but also in connection to the cost of the search.

Thirdly, psychological and psychosocial needs cannot be understated. After the ICRC representatives handed over a printed copy of the new publication to each participant, one commented: “This report is timely. I felt the collected pain of people like me, suffering since their family member went missing without a trace.”

Jana Bauerova/ICRC

The relatives of the missing have to cope not only with the grief of missing a loved one, but sometime also feel isolated, as no one who has not experienced such ordeal can feel their pain. Finally, recognition is also important, both in order to remember the missing persons, and to recognize the plight of the families of the missing.

On one hand, the ICRC strives to raise awareness both among decision makers and society about the humanitarian consequences of the disappearances, and, on the other hand, along with partners from the Ukrainian Red Cross, to accompany the families, clarifying the legal aspects and providing psycho-social and financial support.

“The mothers who await their sons are as if left with one wing. I wish you to find it, and to forget, like a nightmare, what you are going through now. I experience the same. My only son disappeared. But life goes on. We carry on, we help each other. I think that, if we want so much that they be found, they will be found.” – Mother of a missing person

The families of the missing took keen interest in the Law on the Status of the Missing Persons in Ukraine, adopted in August 2018. One participant to the event admitted that it gave them hope that [the authorities] would continue to look for their missing relatives. The event was an important occasion to share the families’ stories, as well as to learn about family associations and activities related to the search and remembrance, including through a presentation from the Community Organization the Union of Relatives of Missing Hope, based in Dnipro.

Jana Bauerova/ICRC

Since the beginning of the crisis in spring 2014, the ICRC has been permanently present in Ukraine and has been registering cases of persons unaccounted for on both sides of the line of contact. Determining the precise number of the missing is difficult, as the conflict is ongoing, many bodies remain unidentified and the various registers have not been consolidated. Nonetheless, it is positive that actions to address the problem of the missing in relation to the conflict have been taken from early on, and can build on commitment of different actors and already existing capacities.

As estimated 1,500 persons or more remain unaccounted for, the efforts in Ukraine in search for the missing persons and support of their families should be integrated, coordinated and designed with the different needs of the families in mind. The ICRC welcomes the establishment of the National Commission on Missing Persons and the provision to provide financial support to the families in this regard. Further steps that the authorities undertake in line with the lessons and recommendations of the Family Needs Assessment will help alleviate the suffering of relatives of the missing persons.


Open the report “Needs Assessment of the Families of Missing Persons in relation to Conflict in Eastern Ukraine” in PDF format