The ‘duped’ Sri Lankans fighting in Russia’s Ukraine war


COLOMBO: When Sri Lanka’s economy crashed in 2022, people sought work abroad wherever they could find it – including ex-soldiers who joined forces fighting in Ukraine after Russia’s invasion.

Now the veterans – some of whom swapped their life savings for what they thought would be lucrative, non-combat jobs – are desperate to come back home.

“What we ask is to help bring back our husbands,” said Renuka Karunaratne, 49, who said her husband was duped into going to Russia by a devious agent.

Colombo’s parliament set up an inquiry last month to track at least 2,000 battle-hardened Sri Lankans who reportedly enlisted on both sides of the Ukraine war, including in the regular armed forces and mercenary groups.

With no communication for months, and reports of at least 16 Sri Lankans killed and 37 wounded, distraught families are pleading with politicians for help.

The government says around a dozen Sri Lankans are being held prisoners of war in Ukraine, after being lured there in pursuit of work.

Advertisements shared on WhatsApp groups of retired military personnel promised monthly salaries of more than US$2,100, 13 times the average income in Sri Lanka.

Promises were also made of plots of land in Russia, where foreign fighters and their families could settle.

Karunaratne said she and her husband paid US$10,000 to an employment agent to get the job.

“We have sold everything we owned, including jewellery,” she said while demonstrating outside the Russian embassy in Colombo last week.

“We have mortgaged a part of our house too.”



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