: Irish Times: Ukraine's disappeared cast a long shadow over a divided nation

17:30 Jul. 16, 2016

Irish Times: Ukraine's disappeared cast a long shadow over a divided nation

Pro-Russian rebels stand at the edge of a field allegedly filled with mines by the Ukrainian army, who used a nearby coal mine as an outpost, on March 7, 2015 in Enakievo, Ukraine. (Getty Images)

Search for the missing and dead could last years and hamper any reconciliation efforts

It is two years since Ukrainian forces retook the strategic eastern town of Slovyansk and surrounding areas, boosting the morale of a nation rocked by Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for a separatist revolt.

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Svetlana Sarzhevskaya calls it the time her beloved Ukraine returned to her, as the militants were driven back to their current stronghold of Donetsk.
But it was also the time her husband Pavel vanished, probably forever.

One week before the army liberated the couple's village of Yampil, 30km from Slovyansk, gunmen came late at night for Pavel, who had openly denounced the militants and supported Ukraine's troops.

Sarzhevskaya has not seen her husband since, and the quest to discover his fate has taken her to Donetsk and Crimea – places now run by those violently hostile to Ukrainian patriots like her – as well as to Kiev, the capital of a country still in flux.

That a single woman should have to do this, with no state help and using her own slim resources, speaks of the peculiar nature of Ukraine's war, and of the country's struggle to provide for some of those who have sacrificed most for it.

It also highlights the growing number of civilians and servicemen who have gone missing during the conflict, and how finding and identifying them – alive or dead – will be crucial to reconciliation efforts when the fighting finally ends.

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"Lots of people in Yampil supported the separatists," says Sarzhevskaya (41). "Others joined them for a few bottles of vodka, and stood with a gun at a checkpoint. We knew them; they were our neighbours. Our kids went to school together.

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