THE father of a British fighter feared murdered in Ukraine has launched an epic war zone quest to solve the riddle of his vanished son.
The Sun joined Kevin Burke, 62, on a heartbreaking hunt for answers after his hero boy Daniel disappeared on August 11, 15 miles behind the front lines.
The search led him 2,000 miles to a shallow grave, where Kevin suspects his son’s body was dumped after he was shot in the head and chest by a comrade.
Daniel, 36, a former British para and founder of the Dark Angels volunteer unit that fought with Ukraine’s armed forces last year, was also a friend of mine.
We met on the front lines in 2022, where friendships were forged fast.
I last saw him on August 10 in Ukraine, a day before he disappeared.
Devastated Kevin, a retired lorry driver from Manchester, had spent every waking hour since Daniel vanished collecting fragments of evidence in the hope of finding him alive.
But he was driven to despair — and ultimately to Ukraine — as the local police probe stalled and the Foreign Office told him nothing.
Kevin said: “It was like we had a thousand dots but didn’t know how to join them up.”
Fighting back tears, he added: “This is every parent’s worst nightmare.
“I thought Daniel must be in trouble somewhere, in pain. I thought he might be hungry and thirsty or bleeding out.
“Every day we didn’t find him we knew there was less chance he would survive whatever had happened.”
As Daniel’s friends scrambled to help, they opened a door to a dizzying world of fantasists, fighters and chancers who have flocked to Ukraine since Russia invaded.
Mission in no-man’s land
Their theories on Daniel’s disappearance ranged from a mafia-style hit over unpaid debts to a long-planned moonlight flit.
Others suspected a Russian snatch squad had taken Daniel hostage.
As we sat outside a Ukraine police station — with a wanted poster of Vladimir Putin plastered on the wall — Kevin dismissed the idea that Daniel had disappeared deliberately.
He said: “It just doesn’t make sense. Dan had everything going right.
“He had a flat, he had money, he had two vehicles, a stock of medical equipment and he had a plan.”
Daniel had switched the Dark Angels’ focus to “rescue and recovery” last winter and hoped to make it a charity offering global crisis response.
Ex-British soldier James Sutton reported Daniel missing after messages failed to go through to his phone.
James, 35, was in Lviv, 600 miles from Daniel’s last-known location, but in regular contact with him on messaging service Signal.
James and Daniel’s mutual friend, Nourine Abdelfetah, an Algerian-born Australian fighter known as Adam, had been with Daniel the day he vanished.
Adam, 25, was a freshly minted war hero. He had run through Russian fire to rescue a wounded comrade and saved James’s life in the same fire fight by using his body to shield him from shrapnel.
In one of Daniel’s last voice messages he said he and Adam were going to a firing range for training.
Sounding upbeat, he said: “Things are going good today. I picked up Adam yesterday, he’s feeling a bit down. We’re gonna go down to the range and do some target practice.
“I’ll be back home and on the computer in three to four hours.”
Adam said he dropped Daniel back at his apartment around 6pm on August 11.
His story seemed to check out. About an hour after he got home, Adam, James and a friend in America all received messages from Daniel’s phone.
Police in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia opened a missing person case and got in to Daniel’s apartment.
There was no sign of a struggle. His belongings were all there. James and Adam were questioned and released.
As days turned into weeks the whispers of what could have happened grew ever wilder.
An American fighter alleged — with no evidence — that Daniel had been linked to weapons smuggling.
Others thought Daniel’s fate might be linked to the unsolved murder of Jordan Chadwick, a former Scots Guards soldier found tortured and killed in Ukraine in June.
Was it a Russian snatch squad? Or a serial killer targeting British people?
Fears of some sort of conspiracy were fuelled by the death of Sam Newey — a friend who was mentored by Daniel — who was killed in unclear circumstances fighting in August further east.
Among the maddest theories was that The Sun had conspired to stage Daniel’s disappearance to bring him back in a bogus fanfare.
I first met Daniel in June 2022, when he invited our team to stay with his Dark Angels in a bomb-proof concrete bunker near the old front lines in Kherson.
As Russian rockets and shells pounded the village above our heads, he explained how he had led a four-man team on a mission in no-man’s land to launch a Javelin anti-tank missile at a Russian coastal position.
We later risked our lives together when we joined a Ukrainian tank in battle.
Ukraine was not Daniel’s first war.
He served in Afghanistan in 2008 with the 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment and fought against IS terrorists in 2017 with a Western-backed YPG Kurdish militia.
By the fifth week of Daniel being missing, his loved ones were steeled for the worst.
Kevin was taking part in a two-day hostile environment course to prepare for his trip to Ukraine when news broke that Daniel’s account on the Telegram messaging app was active on September 11.
An amateur sleuth who was helping the family, claimed, somewhat dubiously, they had located the ping to southern Spain, where Daniel owned a plot of land.
It was proof, some said, Daniel had fled, and there was anger. Onefumed: “Lazarus is back from the dead.”
‘You’re going to hate me’
But the glimmer of hope was sadly short lived. We later discovered the ping had been caused by police who had gained access to Daniel’s laptop.
Four days later they found human remains.
Here there were conflicting stories.
Police said the body was too decomposed to be Daniel as he had only been missing five weeks. DNA results are expected next week.
But when Kevin reached Ukraine he heard directly from multiple sources, including a cop and James Sutton, that Adam had confessed — to friends and under a second 14-hour interrogation — to killing Daniel.
James revealed the details of Adam’s confession to him when he met Kevin in Odesa.
James said: “I will never forget that call. Adam said he had done something.
He said, ‘You are going to hate me but I hope one day you will forgive me’. I said, ‘What?’. He said, ‘I killed him. I panicked and I buried his body’.’’
Kevin and The Sun have also seen messages from Adam’s Australian mobile phone in which he admits to killing Daniel.
In one exchange he was asked: “Who shot him?”
Adam replied: “Obviously me, but I didn’t murder the guy.”
Asked why he had lied, Adam wrote: “I killed someone. I didn’t know what to do.”
In the same exchange Adam wrote: “I swear to God I didn’t murder the guy. I’m not a bloody murderer.”
James and a second source, who have both heard confessions, said Adam claimed it was an accident.
Adam told them he was mucking about, waving his rifle around and even pointing it at Daniel.
Daniel’s last words were said to be: “What are you doing. It’s not a joke.”
Adam replied: “Why are you so scared? I’m on safe.” And he squeezed the trigger to prove it.
Daniel collapsed. A bullet had hit the side of his head.
Daniel was clearly dead, Adam allegedly told them, but still twitching so he shot a second time to still his body.
When Kevin visited Ukraine last week he recognised the firing range from videos Daniel had posted online.
Around 500 yards away was a concrete drain hidden by trees where the body had been found.
Sitting there in contemplation, Kevin said: “We came here not knowing anything. But now I know what happened. I know where it happened and I know how it was covered up.
“And we’ve got a confession. But there is a long way to go for justice.”
The case only became a murder probe a week after the body was found.
And a detective said the state of the body made it “the most mysterious case” he had seen in 12 years.
Adam has not been arrested or charged.
Police said the former builder cannot be made a suspect — a formal process in Ukrainian law — before the body is identified.
Detectives asked Adam to stay in Zaporizhzhia and put him in a hotel.
But its location was leaked online by a hothead American blogger who bombarded Adam with death threats.
Fearing for his life, Adam fled the city — and possibly Ukraine too.
Police believe he may be heading to Australia, where his mother and sister live, or to north Africa, where he has an uncle.
Adam did not respond to requests for comment sent to his mobile phone numbers, sister and fiancée.
Additional reporting: SERGII KHOMYSHYNETS