A year on, families still search for missing Kiev protesters

Faina Taran holds a crumpled black-and-white picture of her son Ivan in her trembling hands as she tells what little she knows about how he disappeared a year ago.

Kiev: Faina Taran holds a crumpled black-and-white picture of her son Ivan in her trembling hands as she tells what little she knows about how he disappeared a year ago.

The security guard, 40, had left his hometown in western Ukraine and -- without telling his mother for fear of upsetting her -- headed to join the anti-government protests on Kiev`s Independence Square, or Maidan.

"The first I knew was when I got a call from his comrades telling me that my son had been on Maidan and that he had gone missing," Taran told AFP.

"I travelled to the square and people confirmed he`d been there and fought with the riot police on February 20. He ended up behind their lines and then he was gone."

A year after the bloody end of the protest movement in Kiev that toppled pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych, Taran is still waiting desperately for any word of her son.

He is among a number of people who were believed to have gone missing from the sprawling Maidan protest camp in the heart of the Ukrainian capital and have not been heard from since. The final days of the protests were mired in bloodshed and chaos as security forces gunned down scores of protesters in what was then the worst unrest in Ukraine since independence in 1991.

Such is the confusion that surrounds the culmination of the revolt -- and the subsequent upheaval that has engulfed Ukraine -- that 12 months on there is still no clear number of how many demonstrators remain missing.

Two volunteer organisations have put together separate lists that put the figure of those not found at either 27 or 55.

Police say they are currently conducting criminal investigations into the disappearance of just eight people they are sure were on the square.

Diminutive post-graduate student Katya Melnik started collating figures on missing demonstrators as a volunteer during the protests.

By April she had over 100 names on her list but that number was gradually whittled down as people turned up at home or were discovered to have headed east to fight a pro-Russian rebellion.

But a stubborn small number of cases have remained unsolved and hope is wearing thin.

"Unfortunately it is possible that it will stay at this number of people and that will be it," said Melnik, of volunteer group Euromaidan SOS.

"In normal circumstances, if you don`t find someone in three days then you won`t find them at all or you`ll only find a body."

Speculation over what could have happened to those who are genuinely missing usually focuses on Ukraine`s security forces.

Throughout the months of demonstrations in Kiev activists documented the abduction and abuse of protesters by the authorities.

In a report released Wednesday, Amnesty International detailed 11 cases of protesters being detained and beaten by security officials that it said were only a "tiny sample" of the abuses committed.

Officials have been heavily criticised for the failure to hold those responsible for the bloodshed on Maidan accountable, with activists saying they are deliberately dragging their heels.

Only two low-ranking former riot police are currently awaiting trial over the deaths of demonstrators. Police investigator Roman Krilevich says that the search for those who disappeared is complex.

First police have to sieve through the hearsay to figure out if someone reported as missing really was on the square, then they struggle to obtain accurate information.

"The majority of people who were there didn`t give out their real personal details for fear that they might be prosecuted," Krilevich said. "That makes it problematic."

He says some of those who are thought to be missing might simply not want to be found, including those with a criminal record or people who had conflicts with their families.

All the bodies that were found on Maidan have been identified, he said.

For the families who cannot find their loved ones the main hope is to end the months of painful limbo.

Faina Taran says she believes now that her son was killed after being captured.

"My mother`s instinct tells me that he is not alive anymore," she says, tears welling up in her eyes.

Now she says she is desperate for the police to just find any trace of Ivan.

"I want to know what happened to him so much. If he is alive or dead, I just want to find him -- wherever he is."  

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