Since the start of Russia's full-scale invasion on Ukraine on 24 February, more than 7,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been declared missing, said Ukraine’s commissioner for persons who disappeared under special circumstances, Oleh Kotenko, in a comment to Ukrainian media.
A dedicated call centre established to report missing persons recorded a total of 7,200 cases of missing Ukrainian service members, many of whom are suspected to have been captured by the enemy.
According to the commissioner, this figure includes personnel from several branches of the Ukrainian military, including the Ukrainian Armed Forces, National Guard, border guard, and SBU (intelligence service). From the Ukrainian armed forces alone, there are purported to be at least 2,000 missing soldiers.
Many of these missing troops include troops from Ukraine’s controversial Azov battalion, who defended Mariupol’s Azovstal factory grounds in a desperate last stand.
“Our call centre registered around 7,200 people. For example, the Azov regiment is part of the National Guard, and there are also missing persons. They did not contact their relatives when they left Azovstal,” the commissioner said.
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The commissioner insists that most of the missing soldiers reported to the call centre are alive and held in captivity by Russian forces and their proxies. Fighters from Ukraine’s first battalion of the 36th Marine Brigade are known to be detained by Russia.
“We know that they were taken to Russia. First, we need to understand how many people are there. If there are more than 100 of them, then we understand that almost the entire battalion is in captivity,” Kontenko said.
There are hopes that many of these soldiers will be returned to Ukraine as part of prisoner exchanges between the two warring countries. At the end of June, more than 140 Ukrainian soldiers were released as part of the largest prisoner exchange of the war. Russia is reported to have secured the release of 144 soldiers from the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR).
“Eventually, [the missing troops] will be on the list for exchange and they will return home. This is the case we know for sure that those missing are alive,” Kotenko said.