Waiting for Serhiy

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Waiting for Serhiy

After nearly two years and only scraps of information, a Ukrainian family still hopes their son, a marine captured by the Russians in Mariupol, will come home soon.

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By Thomas Gibbons-Neff

Photographs by David Guttenfelder

Reporting from Trostyanets, Ukraine

Feb. 24, 2024, 5:04 a.m. ET

His attempts to escape the Russian siege had failed. He and his fellow Ukrainian marines were surrounded, dozens of miles from friendly lines. They were nearly out of food and water. Some panicked, others quietly resigned themselves to what would come next.

Then, about a day later, Serhiy Hrebinyk, a senior sailor, and his comrades emerged from their final holdout inside the sprawling Ilyich Iron and Steel Works in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol. He quickly messaged his older sister: “Hi Anna. Our brigade surrenders in captivity today. Me too. I don’t know what will happen next. I love you all.”

That was April 12, 2022.

Nearly two years later, on the second anniversary of the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Serhiy, now 24, remains in captivity as a prisoner of war, held somewhere in Russia. His family sits in purgatory, trapped between that day in April and the present.

The initial panicked flurry of calls and visits to the Red Cross, the Ukrainian military and local officials quickly subsided; official proof of life took months to come. The war dragged on, and now, like thousands of other Ukrainian families with relatives in captivity, the Hrebinyks wait.

“Life, of course, has changed. Almost every day is filled with tears,” Svitlana Hrebinyk, Serhiy’s mother, said from her living room this month.

Svitlana Hrebinyk inside her family’s home last week in the town of Trostyanets, in Ukraine’s Sumy region.

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