How ICMPs Expertise and Support Helped in Resolving a Complex Case of the Identification of the Missing Military Man

Kyiv, 21 February, 2024 – Olha Bashynska’s son, Yuriy, went missing in March 2022 in the northern outskirts of Kyiv, where he was serving in the army. Determined to find out what happened to her son, Olha travelled to the place where Yuriy’s unit had been deployed and where multiple casualties had been reported. She painstakingly unearthed, sorted, and gathered heavily charred bones and then insisted that the authorities attempt to extract DNA profiles from them. When these attempts failed, due to extensive damage to the bones, Olha didn’t give up. She contacted Tetiana Sadovska, a lawyer working on behalf of military families, and together they explored options for extending the investigation into the disappearance of Yuriy and others in his unit.

Tetiana suggested that the authorities invite the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) to take bone samples from human remains stored at the mortuary of the Bureau of Forensic Medical Examination in Zhytomyr and compare DNA profiles from these samples with profiles from blood samples provided by Olha and other relatives of missing soldiers. Unidentified bodies from soldiers who disappeared at the same time and the same place as Yuriy were stored in Zhytomyr.

“The search for and identification of Yury Bashynskyi was long and difficult,” Tetiana said. “Together with Olha, we exhausted every possible avenue. Engaging ICMP experts within the framework of criminal proceedings in Ukraine posed its own set of challenges. Nevertheless, we persevered.”

When the authorities agreed, ICMP experts traveled to Ovruch in Zhytomyr oblast to take blood samples from Mrs. Bashynska and Yuriy’s uncle. The same day, they collected post-mortem samples from unidentified bodies at the Zhytomyr mortuary.

Tetiana commended the approach of Soren Blau, ICMP’s Head of Anthropology and Archaeology, and Oleksandr Krasnoborov from ICMP’s Ukraine Program. “Their expertise and their compassion were instrumental in securing an outcome of deep significance for the mother of the fallen soldier. It was extraordinary to witness Soren’s ability to examine a minute bone fragment and accurately determine its specific anatomical origin, despite the extensive damage.”

When the ante-mortem and post-mortem samples were analyzed at ICMP’s DNA laboratory in The Hague, those provided by Yuriy’s mother and uncle matched one set of samples brought from the Zhytomyr mortuary. This enabled conclusive identification. Yuriy Bashynski’s body was returned to his mother and buried with all honors.

Tetiana notes that ICMP’s assistance was crucial because the human remains kept at Zhytomyr were badly burned, making DNA extraction particularly difficult. Like their Ukrainian colleagues, ICMP specialists were initially unable to secure profiles, but eventually succeeded because the Hague laboratory specializes in the particular challenges posed by conflict-related cases. “ICMP’s expertise can greatly benefit national investigative agencies and support victims in Ukraine, particularly in complex cases,” she said. “It’s a question of applying modern technologies and expertise that aren’t readily available here.”

Tetiana emphasized that the Expert Service of Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, which is responsible for the management of unidentified human remains, is working with remarkable efficiency under enormously difficult circumstances.  “Ukraine stands to benefit significantly from collaboration with ICMP – not to supplant the national expert service, which performs admirably, but rather to complement and support it in cases requiring prolonged and intricate examinations.” She added that “involving ICMP experts in anthropology and archaeology during the scene inspection phase could significantly mitigate the adverse consequences associated with the loss of evidence, upon which finding, identifying and repatriating missing individuals depends.”