Minister: Around a dozen Estonians fighting in war on Ukrainian side
Around a dozen people from Estonia are known to have traveled to Ukraine to fight for that country's forces in its struggle against Russia, Minister of Defense Hanno Pevkur (Reform) says.
Approximately the same number of people have traveled from Estonia to fight on the Russian side in the conflict, he added, speaking to ETV current affairs show "Ringvaade" Friday.
Pevkur said: "We have indications and information to hand that they could be counted on the fingers of two hands, and not more than that. Unfortunately, we have to concede that there are Estonian citizens on the Russian side also."
The minister was making his remarks in the context of news that the first Estonian citizen had been killed in the current war, now in its second year.
Pevkur said Ukraine's defense forces had notified the Estonian authorities about the death of Ivo Jurak, a former Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) intelligence officer, who was reportedly killed by artillery fire earlier in the week.
Consular aid was initiated at that point, with condolences expressed to Jurak's family and also an EDF psychologist made available.
The state is helping to repatriate Jurak's body to Estonia also.
The minister noted that the estimates of the numbers of Estonians directly involved in the Ukraine war was just that.
He said: Insofar as we have information right now – and we have to admit that we don't have all the information available – on the Ukrainian side, we are still talking about fewer than a dozen people, while on the Russian side the order of magnitude is about the same."
In the case of the latter group, the minister said that were these people to return to Estonia, and were identified, they would face penalties.
"Going to war on the side of an aggressor is punishable in Estonia," he said.
The above figures do not include those who have also volunteered for medical assistance and other non-front-line duties in the war, he added.
As to how these individuals would have reached Ukraine and the conflict zone, Pevkur said: "This is a hard thing to restrict - if an individual gets into a car and drives to the Polish border, and from there to Ukraine, even without the goal of going to war, but still ends up somewhere in a Ukrainian unit, then it is very difficult to do anything."
"Naturally, if someone gets the idea that they are going to help Ukraine, … as in the 'Finnish boys' also came to the aid of Estonians in that era (Pevkur was likely referring to Finns who came to Estonia's aid in the 1918-1920 War of Independence, as opposed to Estonian volunteers, also called Finnish boys (Soomepoisid) who went in the opposite direction to aid Finland during World War Two – ed.), then they will also find the way to get there, and they will also find it, with whom or with whom to do it."
"Besides, of course, Ukrainians are also examining your skills and what your abilities are."
Pevkur added that the Estonian state cannot provide much assistance directly to such people, and then only consular assistance, primarily. "These people have voluntarily chosen to go to war there. If something should happen to them, if they need consular assistance from Estonia, then of course that can be obtained via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."
He also recommended notifiying the state via the foreign ministry, outside of his remit, if traveling to Ukraine. Going there without that is tantamount to doing so anonymously, which would make it unlikely Ukraine's defense foreces would be able to provide additional information in the case of, for instance, a volunteer getting injured.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots