‘More than 7,000 Ukraine military missing’

As many as 7,200 Ukrainian service personnel have gone missing since the start of the Russian invasion, Ukraine’s ombudsman, Oleh Kotenko, has said.

The majority of them were in Russian captivity, he told Ukraine’s Suspilne TV channel.

Mr Kotenko said Ukraine’s armed forces had earlier reported some 2,000 missing troops.

But he said the much higher number included members of the National Guard, border guards and the security service.

“Our call centre has information about 7,200 people,” said Mr Kotenko, Ukraine’s commissioner for missing persons.

He said he hoped that “sooner or later” they would be exchanged for Russian prisoners of war and returned home.

Neither Ukraine’s armed forces nor the Russian military have publicly commented on the issue.

Both Kyiv and Moscow claimed to have taken thousands of POWs since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The two warring sides have since been involved in several prisoner swaps.

On Sunday, Ukrainian Defence Minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said that Kyiv planned a “million-strong army,” equipped with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) weapons, to retake the south of the country from the occupying Russians.

Retaking the areas around the Black Sea coast was vital to the country’s economy, he stressed.

However, the comments were more of a rallying cry than a concrete plan, analysts said.

Nearly 1,000 Ukrainian fighters, who have been holed up in the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol for weeks, have left their positions and handed themselves over to Russian forces and pro-Russian separatists, according to Russia’s defence ministry.

The evacuation marked the likely end of the battle for the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which lies in ruins after weeks of relentless Russian bombardment.

What happened next to the evacuated Azovstal fighters was unclear, with Ukraine calling for a prisoner swap but some in Russia suggesting they should be put on trial.

“Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive,” Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, said in his nightly address after the evacuation of the steelworks began, adding that “work continues to bring our lads home.”

But when and if that will happen was uncertain, and details of the agreement brokered between the two sides, as well as the UN and the Red Cross were unknown.

Ukraine said negotiations were ongoing to exchange the fighters for Russian prisoners of war, but Russia has not confirmed that a swap will take place. -BBC

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