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More than 7,000 Ukrainian servicemen and women have been reported as missing in action since the war began, with officials warning that most are believed to be prisoners of war in Russia.
Speaking to Ukrainian media Monday, Oleg Kotenko, the commissioner for the Issues of Persons Disappeared Under Special Circumstances, said that the Ukrainian Armed Forces had reported roughly 2,000 soldiers missing in action.
But the official said this group of missing servicemen only represents a fraction of Ukraine’s military.
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“If we are talking about the military, then let’s understand who the military are. There is the Armed Forces of Ukraine, there is the National Guard, there are border guards, there are SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] and these are different institutions,” he explained. “They are not included in the figure given by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”
Kotenko said that some 7,200 Ukrainian soldiers are believed to be missing in action.
The official said that most of the missing soldiers are believed to be in Russian captivity, but not all of those who are missing have yet been accounted for.
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Kotenko pointed to the 1st battalion of the 36th brigade – likely in reference to the Marine brigade that fought alongside the Azov regiment in Mariupol – who reportedly surrendered to Russian forces earlier this year.
“We know that they were taken to Russia,” he said. “We need to understand how many people there are. If there are more than a hundred of them, then we understand that practically the entire battalion is in captivity.
The Ukrainian official said as long as communication with soldiers remains down, then they are considered missing in action.
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One of the ways Ukraine has been identifying soldiers who have been reported as missing is through prisoner exchanges with Moscow.
“Sooner or later they’re going to be on the exchange list and they’re going to come home,” he added. “This is where we know for sure that the missing are alive.”
Ukraine and Russia have engaged in several prisoner swaps since the war began roughly five months ago.
It is unclear how many Russian soldiers are believed to be missing in action.