An Estimated 20 Percent of Russia's Prison Recruits Fighting In Ukraine Are HIV Positive: Officials

Military personnel throw items into a fire outside an intelligence building on February 24, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.
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Timur, 37, an HIV-positive Russian soldier, said that he was promised life-saving medication as well as an early prison release if he agreed to serve on the front line.

A shocking number of H.I.V. positive prisoners in Russia are risking their lives in order to receive life-saving medication.

An estimated 20 percent of the prison recruits serving in the Russian Armed Forces are H.I.V positive, according to Ukrainian officials.

That number is based on the infection rate of Russian soldiers who have been captured in Ukraine.

The New York Times reports that many of these prisoners were lured in by the promise of H.I.V. medication, which can reduce the viral load in an individual to a point where the virus is undetectable and cannot be transmitted.

These prisoners are part of the Wagner Group, a paramilitary organization whose members are also tasked with protecting President Vladmir Putin.

Timur, 37, an H.I.V.-positive Russian soldier, told the Times that he was promised that medication as well as an early prison release if he agreed to serve on the front line.

“I understood I would have a quick death or a slow death,”  Timur, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence following a drug arrest, told the Times.                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Timur said that he underwent two weeks of training before being sent out with a gun, ammunition, a helmet, and the words of his superior - "if you try to leave this field, we will shoot you."

The H.I.V.-positive Russian troops are also made to wear red or white wristbands to signify their status.

Ruslan, 42, is also serving a drug sentence. He told the Times that the medication he received in the penal colony where he is serving 11 years for his crime was ineffective, and he believed that he would die before his release.

So, he signed up for the army.

“If you have a long sentence it gives you a chance to begin life again," Ruslan said.

The United States does not allow individuals who are H.I.V. positive to serve in the armed forces or military, with the exception of those who contract the virus during their service.

Almost 2 percent of the Russian population is H.I.V. positive according to a Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS report released in October 2021.

That is the highest percentage in any country outside Africa.

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