Ukraine invasion: Fellow aid worker keeps faith Andrew Bagshaw will be found alive

"I would just say the best thing to do is wait for official statements."
"I would just say the best thing to do is wait for official statements." Photo credit: Supplied / Getty Images.

Disinformation is a huge part of Russia's approach to its war on Ukraine and there is still a chance New Zealand aid worker Andrew Bagshaw will be found alive, Australian volunteer Bryce Wilson says.

Bagshaw and British colleague Christopher Parry have been missing since Monday, when they failed to check in after an evacuation mission in the besieged town of Soledar.

The paramilitary Russian group Wagner has announced a body has been found in Ukraine carrying the passports and other documents of the missing men.

Wilson who is also working as a volunteer in Ukraine told Morning Report he worked with Bagshaw for a brief period over the Northern Hemisphere summer and autumn, evacuating people from eastern Ukraine where the conflict has been intense in the last few months.

Before they disappeared Bagshaw and Parry were evacuating an elderly woman from the embattled town of Soledar - the kind of work they had been doing on a regular basis for some time.

During their mission the fighting between Russian and Ukrainian troops in the town intensified and both men had not been heard from since.

Soledar used to be home for about 10,000 people, many residents have left and only about 500 remained, Wilson said.

"The level of destruction was already quite high and many civilians had been killed by shelling and also aviation attacks.

"The city was largely in ruins but had gotten worse through the winter and over the last couple of weeks the Russian military, supported by groups like Wagner, had managed to push in and really fight the Ukrainian military up close but in doing that had killed many more civilians and destroyed even more of the city.

"So over the last week things have really intensified and it has resulted in things like Andrew going missing which is really unfortunate."

So far as the reports of a body and passports being found, he said Ukrainian authorities were still looking for them and doing everything possible.

It was being left to Ukrainian police and military to carry out the search around Soledar but they faced challenging circumstances due to the ferocity of the conflict.

The route the two men had taken had been traced, however, the cellphone signal in the area was bad and the vehicle they used has not been located, he said.

He said having been a target himself, the Russian disinformation and propaganda campaign was a very big part of the conflict.

"I would just say the best thing to do is wait for official statements and not to rely too much on these reports because it's all very deliberate."

In the past the Russian military had kidnapped volunteers in Ukraine who they saw as trophies, making sure photos of them were widely distributed.

"There's a lot about the disappearance about the guys and the way the information has come out as it has that doesn't make a lot of sense... I think people still have hope - we'll just have to wait and see."

There were a number of theories about the body that has supposedly been found carrying two passports and he preferred not to speculate.

It did not surprise him that the information released by Wagner to groups on Telegram seemed to suggest it could be either missing man.

"A big part of the disinformation campaign is to sow panic and doubt so until something gets announced officially I don't think anyone really knows."

Modern conflict becoming more complex

Lecturer at Massey University's Centre for Defence and Security Studies Terry Johanson said there was a lot of controlling of information going in and out of Ukraine on the part of the Russians.

It showed the complexity of modern conflict - the Wagner group was a private military organisation and not officially part of the Russian military while volunteers were going there on an individual basis rather than as part of a government agency.

"It's a number of different actors and it makes finding the truth really hard."

There was a possibility that those caught up in the conflict could hide out in devastated areas of towns like Soledar.

"It takes sitting and waiting for official credible sources to report it [the men's fate] rather than a Russian state-controlled private military company to confirm one way or the other."

With Andrew Bagshaw being a dual national, Russia would see it as an opportunity to use influence over two countries.