Two British nationals helping evacuate civilians in Ukraine have gone missing in the Donetsk region.
The men, aged 28 and 48, were last seen on 6 January heading to the town of Soledar, where fighting has been especially fierce in recent days. There has been no contact with the pair since they left Kramatorsk at 8am on Friday.
The two missing men have been identified to The Independent as Andrew Bagshaw, 48, and Christopher Parry, 28.
A Ukrainian friend and former flatmate of Mr Parry in east Ukraine said that the pair received a call to help evacuate civilians on Friday.
The route they are supposed to take, which The Independent has seen, skirts the edge of the town close to Russian positions and may have actually entered areas engulfed by a moving frontline, as Moscow launched a major assault.
“We don’t know what happened, but we worry,” said the friend and local volunteer, who declined to give his name. “They may not have known where the Russian positions were.”
The situation in Soledar has been kinetic over the last few days with Russia attempting a major advance over the weekend.
Ukrainian media reported that Serhii Cherevatyi, Ukraine’s eastern military command spokesperson, said Soledar is “practically destroyed” after “a powerful assault”. It is unclear now where the frontline in the city is located.
Another Ukrainian volunteer in the east told The Independent that search parties were launched to try to find Mr Bagshaw and Mr Parry after they went missing.
The families of both UK nationals are being supported after they disappeared, a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesperson said.
It comes as Britain is said to be considering supplying Ukraine with tanks for the first time to help the country fight Russian forces.
Discussions have been taking place “for a few weeks” about delivering the British army’s Challenger 2 main battle tank to Ukraine, Sky Newsreported, quoting a Western source with knowledge of the conversations.
Supplying tanks would represent a significant step up in Western support to Ukraine, but the British government has not yet taken a final decision on the matter, the report added. Sky cited one unnamed source saying Britain could offer around 10 Challenger 2 tanks.
The Challenger 2 is a battle tank designed to attack other tanks, and has been in service with the British army since 1994.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence would not confirm nor deny the report but pointed to its supply of over 200 armoured vehicles and other equipment including air defence missiles and anti-tank weapons to date.
Elsewhere, Ukraine is repelling constant attacks on Bakhmut and other towns by Russian mercenary group Wagner in the “bloodiest” battle of the war so far in eastern Ukraine.
“Bakhmut is holding out against all odds,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said in his address Sunday.
“And although most of the city is destroyed by Russian strikes, our warriors repel constant attempts at Russian offensive there.”
Mr Zelensky said in his address that the situation in Soledar was “extremely hard”, adding that the town faced even more destruction than nearby Bakhmut.
“There is no such piece of land near these two cities, where the occupier would not have given his life for the crazy ideas of the masters of the Russian regime,” he said. “This is one of the bloodiest places on the frontline.”
Meanwhile, the Kremlin on Monday rejected a Ukrainian assertion that a senior Russian official has been floating the idea of a potential peace deal over Ukraine with European officials.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, told the country’s public broadcaster on Thursday that Dmitry Kozak, deputy head of Russia’s presidential administration, had been holding meetings with European officials in an attempt to force Kyiv to sign what he characterised as an unfavourable peace deal.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, when asked about Mr Danilov’s assertion, described it as “another fake”.
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