Lankan mercenaries fighting on both sides of Russia-Ukraine war



By Norman Palihawadane

The CID is investigating a human trafficking network enabling Lankan ex servicemen to fight as mercenaries in both sides of the Russia-Ukraine war, Police headquarters sources said on Friday.

According to information confirmed by the investigators, at least five such mercenaries have been killed in the fighting. There were two confirmed deaths of Lankans fighting for Russia in Dontesk and at least three other Lankans were killed fighting for Ukraine, SSP WM Samarakoon Banda Director – Human Trafficking Smuggling Investigation and Maritime Crime Investigation told the Sunday Island.

The SSP said that the State Intelligence Service had found names of 30 Lankans who had already left the country to join foreign legions of the Ukrainian and Russian armies and 36 names and addresses of others who were making arrangements to leave the country.

The SIS had submitted its report on the findings to Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne who later tasked the CID Director, DIG Rohan Premaratne with further investigations, SSP Banda said.

He said that the CID commenced tracking networks of ex-servicemen and local foreign employment agents engaged in this activity. The CID arrested two suspects who were operating a foreign employment agency in Kadawatha in the first week of this month on charges of trafficking individuals to conflict zones in Ukraine. The recruits had deposited one million rupees each to a bank account owned by a female who runs this employment agency.

It has been found that the ex-servicemen had left for Ukraine and Russia on tourist visas. They had been initially taken to New Delhi after which they were taken to Poland and then to Ukraine through Azerbaijan. Out of the 55 individuals who had taken this route recently, 23 had been able to join the Ukraine Army’s foreign legion.

The 55 Lankans who left the country on Aug 16, 2023 comprised 27 ex-army personnel, eight former naval ratings, seven ex-Air Force members and 13 civilians.

Of these 55 individuals, 32 were stranded. Some of them found other jobs in Poland, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Italy while nine of them returned. Those returnees were among 17 who had been taken into custody so far.

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera, reporting the latest death of a Lankan mercenary in Ukraine, said last Thursday that hundreds of Lankans are now serving with the Russian military in Ukraine. He is reportedly the second Sri Lankan to have been killed fighting for Russia in Dontesk, according to the Al Jazeera report (Please read Page 11)

The confirmed identities of some the dead were Capt Ranish Hewage (ex-Army Commando), MM Priyantha (ex-SLAF) and Rodney Jayasinghe (ex-Army). Hewage was buried east of Kyiv but the bodies of the other two Lankans were never recovered.