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In Kyiv, Anguish And Uncertainty Over Maidan's Missing

Ivan Taran's face (left) is just one of dozens that stare hauntingly out of missing-person notices on Kyiv's Independence Square.
Ivan Taran's face (left) is just one of dozens that stare hauntingly out of missing-person notices on Kyiv's Independence Square.
KYIV -- Faina Taran believes she glimpsed her son Ivan for the last time on TV.

Like much of Ukraine, Faina, 66, was glued to rolling news reports on February 20 during bloody clashes in Kyiv. By chance, the camera settled on her son Ivan, 39, an activist on the front lines.

Two of his comrades had been shot and Ivan, wounded, threw himself at Berkut police officers. He disappeared in a melee of shields, batons, and padding.

Had Faina's eyes deceived her? The next day she got a call from Ivan's friend. "Your son is missing. The Berkut got him," she recalls being told, her voice wavering and eyes welling up. No one has seen him since.

One month after Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown, Euromaidan activists are still searching for 183 missing Ukrainians who were lost in the chaos of battle and revolution. It hints at an unsettling truth: that the real death toll is unclear -- and that the circumstances of these disappearances may never be known.

Faina fears the worst, but can't be sure of what happened. "We don't even have a gravestone. When you bury someone at least you can visit the cemetery," she says. "I don't know where to look for him or what to hope for. I don't know what I can do."

Fearing The Worst

Mounds of flowers, shrines, and memorials still adorn Kyiv's Independence Square and yet a prolonged, unresolved anguish lies ahead. Ivan Taran's face is just one of dozens that stare hauntingly out of missing-person notices flapping in the wind. The scores of dead and missing have smothered any sense of euphoria after Yanukovych's ouster.

According to Euromaidan SOS, which has led a volunteer initiative to track the missing, the death toll as of March 18 was 119, including 17 police officers. Euromaidan SOS also registered around 700 missing since protests kicked off late last year; it has yet to account for 183. Disappearances are still being reported.

Nazariy Boyarskyy urges cautious optimism.
Nazariy Boyarskyy urges cautious optimism.
And when hard facts do not materialize, the Maidan's tent-side rumor mill assumes the worst. Some claim scores burnt to death in a fire in the Trade Union building on Independence Square. Others suspect that some activists were abducted, killed, and their remains cremated.

Nazariy Boyarskyy, an activist with Euromaidan SOS, says the union-building blaze claimed five lives, but adds there is no evidence to support the grimmer rumors.

Boyarskyy calls for cautious optimism on the remaining missing, pointing to the well-known case of activist Dmytro Bulatov who disappeared in January and was presumed dead by many, but resurfaced alive eight days later, albeit tortured.

Hoping For News

There is also fear that as confrontation escalates in the east and south, disappearances will multiply. In Crimea on March 16, the Greek Catholic Church reported the disappearances of three of its priests, who resurfaced later. A Crimean Tatar was reportedly found dead with signs of torture.

Boyarskyy differentiates between different categories of disappearances in Kyiv. Some went off the grid because they had been arrested; others because they were undergoing treatment in "underground" medical facilities; others were unaware they were "missing" and had returned to normal lives. A small portion are unconnected to the Maidan uprising.

But the majority are clearly linked. Svitlana Belousova, 38, a hairdresser from the city of Uman in the central Cherkasy Oblast, says the last her family heard of her cousin Andrei Samoilenko, 52, a Kyiv schoolteacher, was when he declared on January 25 that he was heading out to join the Maidan.

She says he left his passport at home and has been unreachable by telephone since, behavior entirely atypical for him,

The case of Ivan Taran and his apparent run-in with the Berkut points to something more sinister.

This week, Faina and her 18-year-old granddaughter Natasha traveled for the third time from their home in the western Rivne Oblast to give local TV interviews to widen the search for Ivan. They have posted his photo on billboards in central Kyiv. Faina is currently looking after Ivan's three children -- Natalya, 18, Oleksandr, 15, and Mariya, 12, in the poor village of Kvitneve.

"Day and night I hope that he is alive and that he will return, that they will help me find him," Faina says. "I just don't know."

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