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Ukraine launches chatbot service for relatives of missing Russian troops

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Ukrainian prisoners of war ride atop of an infantry fighting vehicle after a swap, in Donetsk region, Ukraine

Ukraine is setting up an online chatbot service which will allow Russians with missing soldier relatives in Ukraine to check if they have been confirmed killed or are being held as POWs, officials announced on Wednesday.

Kyiv hopes the move will put pressure on Moscow 22 months into a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, as more and more Russians at home seek answers about the fate of missing soldiers.

The chatbot, whose name means “I want to find” in Russian, will operate on the Telegram app, which is extremely popular in both Russia and Ukraine.

“Russian citizens can officially apply to this (project) to get objective information about their relatives … which is being hidden from them by the governing regime in the Russian Federation,” said Andriy Yusov, spokesperson for Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence agency, which deals with prisoner swap negotiations.

Ukraine and Russia have conducted prisoner exchanges throughout the war. The largest of these happened last week, when 230 Ukrainian captives — mostly soldiers but also six civilians — were given back to Kyiv in exchange for 248 Russian troops.

The project will collect information about the missing soldiers from those who use the chatbot and check it against Ukrainian databases of killed, captured and missing Russian soldiers.

One of the people presenting the project was Irina Krynina, who introduced herself as a Russian citizen and co-founder of a civic movement which seeks to find and return Russian soldiers.

“If we get the appropriate answer, for example that your relative is held captive in Ukraine, you can sign up for a consultation … and we will organise a video-call to confirm (the person’s identity),” she said.

“This will give the possibility for Russians to go to their authorities and, on the basis of this video call… demand for (the soldier) to be exchanged.”

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