Russian missile strikes kill at least 11 in Ukraine: Live updates

credit…Bryce Wilson, via Reuters
credit…Chris Parry, via Instagram, via Reuters

Two British nationals, Andrew Bagshaw and Chris Parry, left the city of Kramatorsk at 8 a.m. on Jan. 6 and headed east toward the front lines of Ukraine’s war with Russia, Ukrainian police said.

Their mission, according to an aid worker familiar with the matter, was to evacuate an elderly woman in Soledar, a small town where Russian and Ukrainian forces are fighting a fierce battle.

They never came back.

Questions about their fate remained until Tuesday, when Mr Parry’s family confirmed in a statement released through Britain’s Foreign Office that “our beloved Chrissy” and Mr Bagshaw had been killed “while trying to evacuate on humanitarian grounds from Soledar”.

“His selfless determination to help the old, the young and the underprivileged has made us and his extended family extremely proud,” the statement said.

The man’s car is believed to have been hit by an artillery shell, although an investigation is ongoing, Mr Bagshaw’s parents said in press conference. They 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 line, people familiar with the matter said. Several of Mr. Parry’s and Mr. Bagshaw’s evacuations were documented from journalistsincluding Arno De Decker who shared footage of Mr. Parry in Bahmut days before it disappeared.

Their deaths were a stark reminder of the danger facing those whose work has become a lifeline in Donbas, 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 some really dangerous address”, said Grzegorz Rybac, 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 to have found the bodies of one of the men a week after their disappearance. The group posted pictures on Telegram of what appeared to be their passports, along with a certificate identifying Mr. Parry as a volunteer with the Pavlo Vishnyakov Foundation, a Kyiv-based charity that sends resources including food and medical supplies to civilians, hospitals and military groups. The foundation declined to comment.

Wagner’s claim could not be confirmed at the time, and Russian state media have since claimed without evidence that the men were mercenaries.

The war in Ukraine is a humanitarian predicament. Conditions in some areas are too dangerous for residents to stay put or for many international organizations to allow their staff to enter, said Abby Stoddard, a humanitarian policy analyst.

So some of the riskiest evacuations are done by independent volunteers – “in other words, those who have the fewest resources to keep people safe,” Ms Stoddard said.

Brian Stern, American veteran, co-founder of a humanitarian organization rescue operation, described frontline evacuation efforts in Ukraine as a “free-for-all.” Although the foreign volunteers came to Ukraine with good intentions, he said, most “have no idea what they’re doing.”

“That’s why it’s really 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 helping. He intended to join foreign fighters, but because he had no combat experience, he instead bought a van and started work as an evacuation driver last March.

On Instagram post days after his arrival, Mr. Parry wrote that he was worried about a planned trip to Kharkiv because “everyone I’ve talked to about it believes there’s a very good chance I’ll die.”

Mr. Bagshaw was a British genetics researcher who was between jobs last spring in Christchurch, New Zealand, when he decided to go to Ukraine, wrote a photojournalist who met him in New Zealand Herald in October. His family told reporters that he believed “it was the morally right thing to do.”

Mr Rybak, who translated for the volunteers, said their ad hoc operation was largely carried out by Kramatorsk’s small English-speaking community. Neither Mr Parry nor Mr Bagshaw spoke Ukrainian or Russian, he said.

Mr Rybak said the Ukrainians would contact local aid workers for relatives near Bakhmut and their addresses would be passed on to volunteers who would go to the conflict zone to evacuate them, often in donated or crowd-funded vehicles means. Travel has been unpredictable, Mr Rybak said, with addresses sometimes empty or residents resisting evacuation.

The men had plans for after the war. Mr. Parry had a partner he wanted to marry, Mr. Rybak recalled, and Mr. Bagshaw wanted to pursue his scientific career.

“They wanted to live,” he said.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting.

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