Ukraine's Ministry of Defense wants to swap out its battle-weary troops by calling for the return of military-aged men who had fled the country after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Estonia, the destination of significant numbers of refugees since March 2022, has repeatedly expressed its interest in signing a deal with Ukraine for the repatriation of relevant refugees.
As Ukraine's counteroffensive appears to have stalled, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says they are in need of up to 500,000 additional troops, which is why they are also searching for Ukrainians who fled to other countries following Russia's launch of its full-scale invasion.
Germany has already said that they will not be supporting Ukraine in this endeavor. Estonia, meanwhile, is ready and willing to hand its refugees over.
"If Ukraine needs it, then Estonia can manage to find and repatriate this person to Ukraine," said Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE). "We know in essence where these individuals are located and what they are doing. A lot – the majority of them work; they have places of residence in Estonia."
While no official requests have been received from Kyiv, the Estonian Ministry of the Interior itself has repeatedly reached out to both the Ukrainian ambassador as well as their interior minister to report refugees in the country if needed.
Within the next few days, Läänemets is slated to offer a written proposal to conclude an agreement between the two countries. Currently, the extradition of foreign nationals to their homelands is only possible in cases where the individual has been criminally prosecuted.
"I don't think the Ukrainian state has the resources to bring mobilization-aged people abroad back [to Ukraine]," commented International Center for Defense Studies (ICDS) director Indrek Kannik. "Perhaps one argument making these people – at least some of them – turn back is the fact that once this war is eventually over, people will certainly also consider who was where."
Military expert and MP Igor Taro (Eesti 200) says that this kind of chasing of people suggests that Ukraine is having issues with its mobilization. Taro added that it's beyond him why they would even search for people who left the country.
"It's not like Ukraine is a small country," he noted. "There are still tens of millions of inhabitants there, and the majority of them are in Ukraine. The majority of them are no longer abroad. The large flow of refugees we saw at one point has turned back. And in any case, even when these refugees went abroad, then there were very few men among them."
More than 7,000 mobilization-aged men from Ukraine have applied for temporary protection in Estonia.
Editor: Aili Vahtla