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Estonian prime minister: We will not repatriate mobilization-aged Ukrainians

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) at Stenbock House in Tallinn. January 11, 2023.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) at Stenbock House in Tallinn. January 11, 2023. Source: Raul Mee/Government Office

While the topic did come up during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's recent visit to Tallinn, Estonia is not going to start repatriating Ukrainian refugees who reside in the country under legal protection, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) told the Kyiv Independent.

"Yes, we discussed the issue of Ukrainian refugees, and especially the men who are [of] mobilization age," Kallas said in an interview recorded on Friday and published by the Kyiv Independent on Saturday.

"President Zelenskyy [described] that there are people who are on the battlefield, and then there are people [in the rear] who are paying taxes to Ukraine so that you can fund the soldiers who are on the battlefield; then there are also people who are in foreign countries like Estonia," she recounted.

"Now, for us, they have the right to be here if they go under those rules – if they have reached us, then the European Union gives them temporary protection," the Estonian head of government explained. "So we will definitely not do anything on our side to give those people out. It is up to Ukraine to really turn to the people who are here and request [that they] come back to help their motherland."

Speaking at a joint press conference following his meeting with Kallas in Tallinn on Thursday, Zelenskyy said that his country needs the men of mobilization age who fled abroad to return to Ukraine, either to fight against Russia or contribute to the economy.

Interior Ministry previously offered to help

Estonia has been the destination for tens of thousands of refugees from Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the latter in February 2022.

Late last month, following Zelenskyy's announcement that Ukraine was in need of up to 500,000 additional troops to swap out those on the front, prompting them to appeal to mobilization-aged refugees who had fled abroad, Estonian Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE) expressed the country's support for helping repatriate relevant refugees to Ukraine.

"If Ukraine needs it, then Estonia can manage to find and repatriate this person to Ukraine," Läänemets said on December 22. "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 had yet been received from Kyiv at the time, the Estonian Ministry of the Interior had itself already repeatedly reached out to both the Ukrainian ambassador as well as Ukraine's interior minister to report refugees in the country if needed, and Läänemets was expected to offer a written proposal to conclude an agreement accordingly 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.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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