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AFP: 16 Sri Lankans reportedly killed, dozens wounded fighting in Ukraine

by Elsa Court and The Kyiv Independent news desk June 12, 2024 4:52 PM 2 min read
Anil Madusanka, a hotel driver who had joined Russian forces, shows his wound during an interview with AFP at his residence in Colombo. (Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP via Getty Images)
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The Sri Lankan government is stepping up efforts to prevent its citizens from being lured into fighting in Ukraine, after reports of 16 Sri Lankans being killed and 36 injured, AFP reported on June 11.

Ukraine's Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War reported in March that Russia is increasingly involving foreign mercenaries from countries with a "difficult economic situation" in its war in Ukraine.

Sri Lanka experienced a severe economic downturn in 2022 and continues to face rising poverty levels. Around 26% of Sri Lankans lived below the poverty line in 2023, according to World Bank figures.

Sri Lanka's parliament set up an inquiry in May to track down the estimated 2,000 citizens who have "reportedly enlisted on both sides," AFP said.

Police have arrested two retired Sri Lankan generals "for illegally acting as recruiting agents for Russian mercenary firms."

Social media campaigns operating on WhatsApp have reportedly targeted ex-military personnel in Sri Lanka, promising lucrative salaries and Russian citizenship to fight in Ukraine on Russia's behalf.

While the Sri Lankan government does not release figures on how many citizens are fighting in Ukraine, officials said that around 12 citizens are being held as prisoners of war in Ukraine, while at least 22 of those who joined the Russian army have managed to desert and escape back to Sri Lanka, AFP said.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry raised the issue of Sri Lankans joining the Russian army while in Moscow on June 10 for a BRICS ministerial meeting.

After discussing the issue with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry announced that Russia and Sri Lanka agreed that "no further recruitment from Sri Lanka will be done."

Russia has been recruiting foreigners from such countries as Nepal, Somalia, India, Cuba, and others to fight in Ukraine from the very beginning of the full-scale invasion.

In January, Nepal halted issuing foreign work permits for its citizens to work in Russia until further notice after growing numbers of Nepalese mercenaries have been reported killed fighting for the Russian military in Ukraine.

At least 10 Nepalis have been confirmed killed while serving in the Russian Armed Forces, and as many as 200 are estimated to be fighting for Russia as of January, according to Nepal's government.

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