Two British citizens, Andrew Bagshaw and Chris Parry, left the city of Kramatorsk at 8 a.m. on January 6 and headed east towards the front lines of the Ukraine-Russia war, Ukrainian police say .
Their mission, according to an aid worker familiar with the matter, was to evacuate an elderly woman from Soledar, a small town where Russian and Ukrainian forces were fighting fiercely.
They never came back.
Questions lingered about their whereabouts until Tuesday, when Mr Parry’s family confirmed in a statement issued by the UK Foreign Office that ‘our beloved Chrissy’ and Mr Bagshaw had been killed ‘while attempting a humanitarian evacuation from Soledar’.
“His selfless determination to help the old, young and disadvantaged there has made us and his large family extremely proud,” the statement read.
The men’s vehicle was allegedly hit by an artillery shell, although investigations are ongoing, Mr Bagshaw’s parents told a news conference. They had feared such an outcome, they said, but were “very, very proud” of his work.
Mr. Bagshaw, 47, and Mr. Parry, 28, were part of an ad hoc cohort of foreigners with little or no combat experience who helped evacuate civilians from the front lines, officials said. knowledge. Several of the evacuations of Mr. Parry and Mr. Bagshaw have been documented by journalists, including Arnaud De Decker, who shared images of Mr. Parry in Bakhmut days before his disappearance.
Their deaths were a stark reminder of the danger facing those whose work has become a lifeline in the Donbass, where many Ukrainians are trapped in some of the worst war zones Europe has seen since World War II. .
On January 6, the two men “went to a really dangerous address”, said Grzegorz Rybak, another foreign volunteer who worked with the two men and lived with Mr Bagshaw in Kramatorsk for two weeks. “And they didn’t come back.”
PMC Wagner, a notorious mercenary group fighting on behalf of Russia, claimed a week after their disappearance that they had found one of the men’s bodies. The group posted photos of what appeared to be their passports on Telegram, along with a certificate identifying Mr Parry as a volunteer with the Pavlo Vyshniakov Foundation, a Kyiv-based charity that sends resources including food and medical supplies, to civilians, hospitals and the military. groups. The foundation declined to comment.
Wagner’s claim could not be verified at the time, and Russian state media has since claimed, without evidence, that the men were mercenaries.
The war in Ukraine is a humanitarian dilemma. Conditions in some areas are too perilous for residents to stay put, or for many international organizations to allow their staff to venture there, said humanitarian policy analyst Abby Stoddard.
So some of the riskiest evacuations are carried out by independent volunteers – “in other words, those with the fewest resources to keep people safe,” Ms Stoddard said.
Bryan Stern, an American veteran who co-founded a humanitarian rescue operation, described the frontline evacuation efforts in Ukraine as “lucky for all”. While the foreign volunteers have come to Ukraine with good intentions, he said, most have “no idea what they are doing”.
“That’s really why it’s such a sad story,” he said.
Mr Parry was a software engineer who wanted to travel the world, his family said.
In early January, he told the local BBC station in Cornwall, where he grew up, that he “knew nothing” about Ukraine before the invasion, but “became obsessed” with it. assistance. He intended to enlist as a foreign fighter, but having no combat experience, he instead bought a van and started working as an evacuation driver last March.
In an Instagram post published a few days after his arrival, Mr Parry wrote that he feared a planned trip to Kharkiv because “everyone I spoke to thinks there is a very high chance that I will die “.
Mr Bagshaw was a British genetics researcher who was between jobs last spring in Christchurch, New Zealand, when he decided to travel to Ukraine, wrote a photojournalist who met him in the New Zealand Herald in October. His family told reporters he thought “it was the morally right thing to do.”
Mr Rybak, who translated for the volunteers, said their ad hoc operation was largely led by a small English-speaking community in Kramatorsk. Neither Mr. Parry nor Mr. Bagshaw spoke Ukrainian or Russian, he said.
Mr Rybak said Ukrainians would contact local aid workers about relatives near Bakhmut, and their addresses would be passed on to volunteers, who would travel to the conflict zone to evacuate them, often in donated or funded vehicles. by the crowd. Travel was unpredictable, Mr. Rybak said, with addresses sometimes vacant or residents resisting evacuation.
The men had plans for the post-war period. Mr. Parry had a partner he wanted to marry, Mr. Rybak recalls, and Mr. Bagshaw wanted to pursue his scientific career.
“They wanted to live,” he says.
Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed report.