Mystery surrounding the disappearance of a Spanish soldier who fought

Mystery surrounding the disappearance of a Spanish soldier who fought in Donbas | International

In Kiev's Maidan Square, a group of Spanish flags hang amid a sea of ​​flags of Ukraine and other countries. These are pennants nailed to one of the flower beds in the symbolic center of the capital, national colors in honor of the soldiers who died fighting the Russian invasion. The Spanish flags are new and have been flown since last December by the comrades of two soldiers: one is Pau Heras, a Catalan who died in a Russian attack this month; the other is Abuelo, the code name of a Cantabrian military veteran who has been officially missing since last November. Although there is no confirmation, his colleagues in Ukraine claim he died.

Ukrainian and Russian military protocol states that a soldier cannot be officially considered dead without the body being recovered. There is a possibility that this fighter survived and was captured by the enemy. According to the Ukrainian government, “tens of thousands” of its military personnel are officially missing.

Heras' body was recovered from a trench by his comrades of the 59th Motorized Brigade during the current Battle of Avdiivka in Donetsk province. Abuelo's case – his initials are MO – is more complex: Spanish diplomatic sources confirm that he is missing. His wife told EL PAÍS that she was waiting for official notification from the Spanish Embassy about his death or his living situation.

This newspaper spoke to two Spanish soldiers who met MO in Ukraine and to a senior political official involved in the investigation of the events. The three sources, who prefer to remain anonymous, believe that MO died in a Russian attack on the Andriivka front, also in Donetsk province, in November 2023. The Kremlin troops, superior in weapons resources and troop strength, are again advancing on the front lines, in Donetsk and Kharkiv province. Andriivka is one of the points where the pressure from the invaders is strongest and where there are the most Ukrainian casualties.

Grandfather was part of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Company of the International Legion. Born in 1980, he was a soldier with extensive experience, with 18 years of service in the 64th Mountain Infantry Regiment of the Spanish Army. He disappeared during his first combat mission in Ukraine. The version of events provided by his companions differs in some details, but agrees that MO was fatally hit by a Russian drone bomb and that he gave his rifle to a companion, a Colombian medic, before his death. Another version of events says that MO was wounded by Russian artillery and took refuge under the remains of a destroyed armored vehicle. As he tried to escape, he was taken out by a drone.

Most of the Abuelo Company's components come from Peru and Colombia. Communicating in the same language in a unit is key to the functioning of the team. Colombia is one of the countries that places the most mercenaries in the Ukrainian ranks. The International Legion recruiting website can only be consulted in two languages: English and Spanish. The Kyiv Independent reported on February 2 that the foreign fighters with the most casualties were Georgians, with at least 60 dead. However, the sources used for this information assure that the number of Colombians who have died is much higher. The number of Spaniards who took part in the conflict is unknown, but the soldiers interviewed are convinced that the number could be around a hundred.

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The two Spaniards who spent time with Abuelo in Ukraine – as they usually call him – claim that the body was recovered at the end of December and that it is in a morgue in the city of Dnipro. According to these people's statements, the Ukrainian authorities hope that the family or Spanish diplomacy will identify the body. Another source familiar with the events denied that the Ukrainian government was aware of the body's presence. The family was not informed about this either.

Manuel Ruiz, brother of MO's wife, explains that he maintains regular contact with the Spanish Embassy in Kiev while he waits for official confirmation of his relative's status. Ruiz added that police took DNA samples from MO's father and sisters in case the body was evacuated or he died at the front and it was necessary to identify him. Ruiz highlights the pain that the family is suffering due to the uncertainty and because without an official certificate of the incident, his sister cannot claim either the widow's pension or the compensation related to a possible death of MO.

Economic need

Ruiz also noted that his brother-in-law, who has two children, may have chosen military service in Ukraine out of economic necessity. The salary for combat operations in the Ukrainian army is 2,500 euros per month. Grandfather's belongings remain at the legion base in Kramatorsk (Donetsk). These are primarily clothing and military equipment, but also more intimate items such as a Spanish flag, a Bible, a self-help book or a patch with the flags of Peru and Ukraine.

Officially, three Spaniards died during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In addition to Pau Heras, the Mallorcan Ángel Adrover, who was also recruited by the International Legion, also died in June 2022. Catalan aid worker Emma Igual was murdered in September 2023 while her NGO was evacuating civilians near Bajmut, when a Russian missile hit the van in which she was traveling. The Foreign Ministry recommends not traveling to Ukraine “under any circumstances.” The Spanish government takes no responsibility for Spanish citizens who choose to fight in Ukraine.

Spanish flags in honor of the combatants killed in Ukraine, this Tuesday in Maidan Square.Spanish flags in honor of the fighters killed in Ukraine, this Tuesday in Maidán Square. Cristian Segura

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