How does the return process work? How many of the returnees include Azovstal defenders? Are the dead returned from all combat areas? We are talking about these and other difficult topics with Oleh Kotenko, the Commissioner for Persons Missing in Special Circumstances.
– Oleh, how long has the Ministry of Reintegration been involved in the return of the bodies of our military?
– Constantly, and after the creation of the Commissioner’s Office in late May, this process has even accelerated. We managed to organize communication with the Russian side through the international office of the Red Cross. Negotiations with the aggressor are difficult, but we have already managed to return 541 fallen defenders. We have brought back 428 bodies from Mariupol, including more than 300 Azovstal defenders. We are returning the fallen from Donetsk, Zaporizhzhya, Kherson, Kharkiv and Luhansk – from everywhere.
– What is the most difficult part?
– Communication with the enemy. We give the Russian side the locations of our dead. They have to pick them up, and then we make exchanges. But the Russian side does not always want to go to the war zone, even though a ceasefire is announced. It can even be difficult to arrange for the bodies of our guys to be taken to the TOT. Due to the huge losses of personnel, the Russians cannot cope with their dead.
– Is there any communication with the families of missing or killed Ukrainian defenders?
– It goes on all the time! The Ministry of Reintegration has already held more than 20 meetings with the relatives of the dead and missing. It is difficult to explain to a person whose loved one has been killed why it sometimes takes a long time to return their body. I’m not going to talk about Russians and compassion now, it’s incompatible, everyone knows that. But I personally care about every story and try to convey the truth, but grieving people are not always ready to listen…
– Do they not believe?
– They are often desperate. They read various news, including propaganda resources that say that Ukraine does not care about our military. This is a cynical lie. I constantly urge them to believe only official Ukrainian sources. Please contact the Ministry of Reintegration if you have lost contact with your relatives. We will help you! And I’m also appealing to journalists: bring the truth to the people! We are ready to provide you with the necessary information. It is very important for us to bring every hero home, and we are doing everything possible for this.