Sri Lanka to repatriate nationals trafficked into Russia-Ukraine war

Sri Lankans in the Russia-Ukraine war

Reuters reports that Sri Lanka will send a high-level delegation to Russia to investigate the situation of hundreds of nationals allegedly fighting in the Ukraine war, according to a top official on Thursday.

The Defence Ministry has warned that social media campaigns on WhatsApp are targeting former military personnel with promises of high salaries and citizenship. These messages, sent by Sri Lankan nationals, provide contact details for agents who handle documentation and flights.

These campaigns have gained traction as Sri Lanka faces its worst financial crisis in over seven decades, doubling poverty rates since pre-pandemic levels and prompting many to seek opportunities abroad.

State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Tharaka Balasuriya, stated that Sri Lanka launched investigations earlier this month into reports of its citizens, mostly with military training, being trafficked to fight in Ukraine. “The primary challenge is determining the exact number of individuals in Russia. Unofficial sources suggest around 600-800 Sri Lankans are there,” he said.

The Russian embassy in Colombo did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and Moscow has not previously replied to similar inquiries from Reuters.

Sri Lankan authorities have received 288 complaints from families of nationals who left illegally to fight in Ukraine and have arrested seven individuals, including a retired major general, on human trafficking charges, the Defence Ministry stated. At least 16 retired military personnel have died in Ukraine.

Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne and a former ambassador to Russia will be among the delegates traveling to Russia soon, Balasuriya confirmed.

Sri Lanka concluded a 26-year civil war in 2009 between separatist Tamil insurgents and government forces, after which many military personnel retired from active service.