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How Many Russian Prisoners of War Are There in Ukraine?

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, both sides have taken thousands of prisoners of war. Ukraine stated in August 2022 that it holds over 700 Russian POWs. Meanwhile, Russia is believed to hold over twice as many Ukrainian prisoners. The exchange and treatment of POWs has become a major issue as the war continues.

Background on POWs in the Russia-Ukraine War

Prisoners of war refer to enemy combatants captured and then detained by an opposing military force during armed conflict. Key details:

  • POWs are supposed to be treated humanely under the Geneva Conventions.
  • POWs can be legally held by the capturing side until the end of active hostilities.
  • Both Russia and Ukraine have captured enemy soldiers and accused each other of POW mistreatment.
  • Exchanges of POWs have occurred sporadically through negotiations.
  • Independent verification of POW numbers and conditions is difficult.

Captured conscripts, volunteers, and officers from both militaries comprise the POW populations on both sides of the war in Ukraine.

Estimated Number of Russian POWs in Ukraine

In August 2022, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry stated that Ukraine holds over 700 Russian POWs. Further details include:

  • This number is up from around 500 in April 2022.
  • Ukraine claims to have captured over 3,000 Russians since February but exchanged most.
  • Ukraine aims to swap the remaining POWs for Ukrainian prisoners held by Russia.
  • Russia has not confirmed if the estimate of over 700 POWs is accurate.
  • The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine is attempting to verify numbers.
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With fighting ongoing, the number of Russians held prisoner in Ukraine continues to fluctuate. Ukraine hesitates to release precise figures to maintain leverage for negotiations.

Estimated Number of Ukrainian POWs in Russia

While less transparent, observers estimate Russia holds at least 1,500 Ukrainian POWs and possibly over 2,000. Details include:

  • An advisor to Ukrainian President Zelensky said at least 2,000 Ukrainians are POWs.
  • Analyzing exchanged POW numbers suggests over 1,500 Ukrainians detained.
  • POWs include soldiers captured during sieges in Mariupol and at the Azovstal steel plant.
  • Families of Ukrainian POWs held protests demanding their release.
  • The highest ranking Ukrainian POW was a lieutenant colonel who has since been exchanged.

The number of Ukrainians captured early in the war was likely much higher, but many have since been released through sporadic exchanges.

Conditions and Treatment of POWs

Both sides have raised concerns and accusations over the conditions and treatment of prisoners of war:

  • Ukraine has alleged physical and psychological abuse of its POWs.
  • Videos showed Ukrainian POWs with injuries consistent with torture.
  • Russia claimed Ukraine tortured and executed surrendered Russian troops.
  • ICRC inspectors have been denied access to check on POWs on either side.
  • Independent verification of conditions for either sides’ POWs remains extremely limited.
  • The UN calls for access for human rights monitors to check on POWs.

The lack of access and transparency regarding POWs makes independent assessment of whether standards under international law are being met nearly impossible.

POW Exchanges Between Russia and Ukraine

Russia and Ukraine have conducted periodic exchanges of prisoners of war at various points during the conflict:

  • In March, Ukraine exchanged 10 Russian POWs for 10 Ukrainian service members.
  • In April, 41 Ukrainian POWs were swapped for the same number of Russians.
  • In June, Russia and Ukraine exchanged a total of 144 prisoners, 72 on each side.
  • Both sides hope to negotiate much larger exchanges, but talks have stalled repeatedly.
  • Ukraine refuses any deals that could allow suspected war criminals to go free.
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The sporadic POW swaps have at least allowed hundreds detained on each side to return home, though thousands remain imprisoned.

Impact on Families of POWs

The unknown fate of thousands of captured troops has devastated families:

  • Wives, mothers and children of POWs deal with agonizing uncertainty.
  • Most have had little to no contact with imprisoned relatives for months.
  • Families demand both sides provide POW lists, phone calls and mail access.
  • Letters, photos and news from POW family members are sometimes screened for censorship before limited delivery.
  • Mental health strains, financial hardships and social issues afflict loved ones waiting for POWs to come home.

Families of Ukrainian and Russian POWs share the cruel hardship of not knowing when or if their captive loved ones will be released safely.

Conclusion

The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has resulted in several thousand prisoners of war being held on both sides. Ukraine has over 700 confirmed Russian POWs in custody but may hold more undeclared. Meanwhile, Russia likely has at least 1,500 Ukrainian POWs and possibly upwards of 2,000. Verifying precise figures and conditions remains extremely difficult. The fates of these detainees anxiously awaits their nations and families as negotiations continue to secure the release and safe return of prisoners of war.

Frequently Asked Questions About Russian POWs in Ukraine

How many Russian POWs are estimated held by Ukraine?

Ukraine has confirmed detaining over 700 Russian prisoners of war as of August 2022. The actual number may be higher.

How many Ukrainian POWs does Russia hold?

While unclear, analysts estimate Russia holds between 1,500 to 2,000 or more Ukrainian POWs.

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What are the rules for POW exchanges?

The Geneva Convention requires warring parties to release all POWs at the end of active hostilities. Exchanges can also be mutually negotiated.

How are POWs supposed to be treated under international law?

They must be provided humane treatment, rights, access to aid organizations, and communication with families.

Have Russia and Ukraine conducted any POW exchanges so far?

Yes, limited exchanges of tens to over one hundred POWs have occurred on a few occasions.

What are the accusations regarding POW treatment on both sides?

Ukraine alleges abuse of its POWs by Russia. Russia claims Ukraine has tortured and killed surrendering Russian soldiers.

How has the uncertainty impacted families of POWs?

Not knowing the fate of thousands of captive troops has caused immense distress for wives, parents and children desperate for their release.

Can humanitarian groups access to check on POWs?

So far both Russia and Ukraine have heavily restricted or blocked access for aid organizations like the Red Cross to visit POW sites.

How long can POWs be legally detained?

The detaining power can hold POWs legally until the cessation of active armed conflict based on international law.

Are military deserters afforded POW status and rights?

Deserters still qualify as combatants granted POW protections under the Geneva Conventions if captured.

Imran Khan

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