16:08 19.02.2024

Russia-Ukraine international armed conflict: 23,000 people reported missing

4 min read
Russia-Ukraine international armed conflict: 23,000 people reported missing

Geneva (ICRC) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is seeking to clarify the fate of 23,000 persons whose families have no news of them, either because they have been captured, killed, or because they lost contact after fleeing their homes. The pain of family separation comes on top of indescribable loss and suffering. Two years after the escalation of the armed conflict, humanitarian needs are rising, including for millions of people displaced, both within and beyond the borders of the two countries.

“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. Families have the right to know what happened to their relatives and, when possible, to exchange news with them,” said Dusan Vujasanin, the head of the ICRC’s Central Tracing Agency Bureau (CTA-B) for the international armed conflict between the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

By the end of January 2024, the ICRC, in collaboration with Red Cross and Red Crescent national societies in Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere, had helped 8,000 families receive information on the fate or whereabouts of their missing loved one. Over the last two years, the ICRC has received more than 115,000 phone calls, online requests, letters or in-person visits from families from both Russia and Ukraine looking for their missing relatives.

"We’ve helped thousands of separated relatives communicate with or learn more about the fate of a loved one, but so many remain without news. We’re working every day to help more families,” Mr Vujasanin said.


What families have told us:

  • "The next time you see my husband, please, tell him that yesterday our baby was born. We both feel good and are waiting for him."
  • "I am so happy to hear that my son is alive. I didn't hear anything for about two months. I felt dead during this time.”
  • "I have no more tears, only pain, my heart is breaking into pieces"


Established in March 2022, the CTA-B works with the parties to the conflict to prevent disappearances and support families searching for their relatives on both sides of the frontline.

In accordance with the Geneva Conventions, both Russia and Ukraine authorities have set up National Information Bureaus (NIBs) in charge of collecting, centralizing and transmitting information on protected persons (such as prisoners of war or civilian internees) in their hands.

Acting as a neutral intermediary between Russia and Ukraine, the CTA-B collects, centralizes, safeguards, and transmits, from one side to the other, this information. The Geneva Conventions foresee that the parties inform the ICRC of all protected persons in their hands, a step that greatly reduces the likelihood of their disappearance.

"Finding a positive match between the tracing requests from families and information received from the NIBs means the end of long months of uncertainty of not knowing the fate of a loved one,” said Mr Vujasanin.

The ICRC works in close collaboration with Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement partners in around 50 countries to be able to bring answers to families of the missing or prisoners of war. It also assists the parties to the international armed conflict in fulfilling their legal obligations related to the recovery, identification, transfer, and repatriation of human remains, including by playing a neutral intermediary role when needed.

International humanitarian law upholds the right of families to know the fate and whereabouts of their missing relatives. Each party to an international armed conflict has the obligation to prevent people from going missing and to ensure that their relatives are informed about their fate. People who are held by a party to the conflict must be treated humanely and the dead must be handled in a dignified manner.

About the ICRC

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is a neutral, impartial and independent organization with an exclusively humanitarian mandate that stems from the Geneva Conventions of 1949. It helps people around the world affected by armed conflict and other violence, doing everything it can to protect their lives and dignity and to relieve their suffering, often alongside its Red Cross and Red Crescent partners.