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Fears for two British volunteers missing in Ukraine helping civilians escape bombed-out frontline

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Fears are growing for two British volunteers missing in Ukraine after contact with them was lost three days ago.

Christopher Parry, 28, and Andrew Bagshaw, 48, were working to evacuate civilians in some of the most war-torn areas near Bakhmut and Kramatorsk, towns in the eastern region of Donetsk where fierce fighting between Ukraine’s armed forces and Russian troops has raged for weeks.

Using a Mercedes Sprinter van and worn-out cars, the pair were helping to take supplies to the frontlines and evacuate people to safety who would have otherwise been killed amid the bitter conflict. 

The volunteers left Kramatorsk to drive to the nearby town of Soledar on Friday morning, Ukrainian police said, but never made it to their destination and all contact with the duo has been lost.

Smoke rises after shelling in Soledar, the site of heavy battles with Russian forces in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023

Plumes of smoke rise from a Russian strike during a 36-hour ceasefire over Orthodox Christmas declared by Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, from the frontline Donbas city of Bakhmut, Ukraine, January 7, 2023

Plumes of smoke rise from a Russian strike during a 36-hour ceasefire over Orthodox Christmas declared by Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, from the frontline Donbas city of Bakhmut, Ukraine, January 7, 2023

Christopher Parry is pictured with a girl whose family he helped to evacuate from the frontlines

Christopher Parry is pictured with a girl whose family he helped to evacuate from the frontlines

The National Police of Ukraine wrote in a social media post: ‘On January 7, around 5:15pm, the duty unit of the Bakhmut district police department received a report of the disappearance of two volunteers – citizens of Great Britain, aged 28 and 48. 

‘It is known that the day before, January 6, at eight o’clock in the morning, Andrew Bagshaw and Christopher Parry left Kramatorsk for Soledar, but contact with them was lost.’

Parry, who was born in Cornwall but later moved to Cheltenham, was a running coach before he bought a one-way ticket to Ukraine in March.

He felt compelled to help Ukraine defend its land against Russia and intended to sign up for Ukraine’s legion of foreign fighters, but said he was told his lack of combat experience would only make him a ‘hindrance’ and instead channelled his efforts into evacuations.

Speaking to Sky News in December, Parry told of the horrific scenes he witnessed firsthand in Bakhmut and the stress of operating under the constant threat of severe injury or death.

‘I went to a military command unit and spoke to a number of soldiers who described Bakhmut as the ”worst place they had ever been”. They were saying ”this isn’t war, this is hell”. 

‘Missiles were landing on the building next door, the roof was shaking. I asked the soldiers, how feasible is it to get to the location of the next evacuee, and they said it was 50/50 you were going to get shot at by a tank.

‘I think people trying to evacuate now are either being shot dead or being forced to become Russian for the rest of their lives.

‘That is why I was willing to risk it, because I know that these people will be executed out on the street or shipped off.’

An NGO director working with Andrew Bagshaw (pictured) said: 'We haven't given up hope, you know there's a number of people in Ukraine who are actively searching for him, including members of the Ukraine armed forces who have been very helpful at trying to identify and locate Andrew'

An NGO director working with Andrew Bagshaw (pictured) said: ‘We haven’t given up hope, you know there’s a number of people in Ukraine who are actively searching for him, including members of the Ukraine armed forces who have been very helpful at trying to identify and locate Andrew’

Ukrainian servicemen administer first aid to a wounded soldier in a shelter in Soledar, the site of heavy battles with Russian forces in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023

Ukrainian servicemen administer first aid to a wounded soldier in a shelter in Soledar, the site of heavy battles with Russian forces in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023

Resident of Soledar sit on an evacuation train to Dnipro, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Pokrovsk, Ukraine, January 8, 2023

Resident of Soledar sit on an evacuation train to Dnipro, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Pokrovsk, Ukraine, January 8, 2023 

Andrew Bagshaw is pictured preparing to head to the frontlines

Andrew Bagshaw is pictured preparing to head to the frontlines

Bagshaw meanwhile was born in the UK but lived in Christchurch, New Zealand. 

His parents, Philip and Susan Bagshaw, are prominent figures in Christchurch where they founded the Canterbury Charity Hospital and made significant contributions to youth mental health services.

Their son bought a one-way ticket to Ukraine in March and was operating in coordination with the New Zealand-based NGO Kiwi Aid and Refugee Evacuation (KARE). 

Philip and Sue described their son as an ‘intelligent, independently minded person,’, while KARE director Tenby Powell told New Zealand outlet RNZ that the family are ‘very upset’ at his disappearance.

‘We haven’t given up hope, you know there’s a number of people in Ukraine who are actively searching for him, including members of the Ukraine armed forces who have been very helpful at trying to identify and locate Andrew.’

Speaking at the weekend, Powell said Bagshaw had been missing for two days.

‘While in the scheme that might not sound very much under normal circumstances, given where he is, and where he’s been operating, it’s a long time,’ he said.

DONETSK, UKRAINE - JANUARY 08: Ukrainian soldier in his position as a tankman as Russia-Ukraine war continues on the Bakhmut frontline in Donetsk

DONETSK, UKRAINE – JANUARY 08: Ukrainian soldier in his position as a tankman as Russia-Ukraine war continues on the Bakhmut frontline in Donetsk

Ukrainian soldier travelling in a truck as Russia-Ukraine war continues on the Bakhmut frontline in Donetsk, Ukraine on January 08, 2023

Ukrainian soldier travelling in a truck as Russia-Ukraine war continues on the Bakhmut frontline in Donetsk, Ukraine on January 08, 2023

An apartment block destroyed by a missile strike is seen, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, from the frontline Donbas city of Bakhmut, Ukraine, January 5, 2023

An apartment block destroyed by a missile strike is seen, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, from the frontline Donbas city of Bakhmut, Ukraine, January 5, 2023

News of the volunteer’s disappearance comes as Ukraine said fighting around Bakhmut and Soledar had intensified and announced it was sending additional units to repel constant attacks there by the infamous Russian mercenary group Wagner.

Kyiv sent reinforcements to Soledar this weekend, Ukrainian officials said.

‘The enemy again made a desperate attempt to storm the city of Soledar from different directions and threw the most professional units of the Wagnerites into battle,’ Ukraine’s military said in a statement.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner mercenary group, has been trying to capture Bakhmut and Soledar for months at the cost of many lives on both sides. He said on Saturday its significance lay in the network of mines there.

‘It not only (has the ability to hold) a big group of people at a depth of 80-100 metres, but tanks and infantry fighting vehicles can also move about,’ Prigozhin claimed, though military analysts say the strategic military benefit for Moscow would be limited. 

Evgeny Prigozhin (L) assists Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a dinner with foreign scholars and journalists at the restaurant Cheval Blanc on the premises of an equestrian complex outside Moscow November 11, 2011

Evgeny Prigozhin (L) assists Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a dinner with foreign scholars and journalists at the restaurant Cheval Blanc on the premises of an equestrian complex outside Moscow November 11, 2011

People cook in a basement as Russian attacks continue nearby, in Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022

People cook in a basement as Russian attacks continue nearby, in Soledar, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022

A U.S. official claimed Prigozhin, a powerful ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is eyeing the salt and gypsum from the mines.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in nightly video remarks on Sunday that Bakhmut and Soledar were holding on despite widespread destruction after months of attacks.

‘Our soldiers are repelling constant Russian attempts to advance,’ he said. In Soledar ‘things are very difficult’.

In an evacuee centre in nearby Kramatorsk, Olha, 60, said she had fled Soledar after moving from apartment to apartment as each was destroyed in tank battles.

‘All of last week we couldn’t come outside. Everyone was running around, soldiers with automatic weapons, screaming,’ said Olha, who gave only her first name.

‘There isn’t one house left intact,’ she said. ‘Apartments were burning, breaking in half.’

‘There are brutal and bloody battles there – 106 shellings in one day,’ Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military in the east, said on Ukrainian television.

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