Thousands of Nepalese citizens duped by Russian job recruiters into fighting on front lines in Ukraine

Dozens of Indian citizens and thousand of Nepalese nationals have been lured to Russia with bogus promises of well-paying jobs and even citizenship — only to be dragged into the army and sent to fight on the front lines in Ukraine with minimal training, according to family members.

Mohammad Afsan, a 30-year-old clothes salesman from Hyderabad, India, had traveled to Russia in early November, after being recruited by an agent running a popular YouTube channel to work as a security guard or a helper, reported The Statesmen.

Afsan, who has a wife and two children, was promised a monthly salary of nearly $550 for the first three months and a Russian citizenship after a year.

Mohammad Afsan, a 30-year-old clothes salesman from Hyderabad, India, seen in a photo held by his wife, had been killed fighting in Ukraine. AFP via Getty Images
Asfan, right, is survived by his wife and two children. Handout

But once he arrived Moscow, Afsan was allegedly coerced into joining the army and shipped off to an outpost on the Russia-Ukraine border, where he was shot dead, the Indian Embassy confirmed on Wednesday.

“He had no idea he was being sent to a war zone,” Afsan’s brother, Mohammad Imran, told The Guardian.

Afsan is at least the second known Indian citizen to have been killed in action in Ukraine, after being allegedly tricked into fighting for Russia.

Last month, Hemil Ashwinbhai Mangukiya, 23, from Gujarat, was killed in an airstrike in Ukraine.

Like Afsan, Mangukiya had been recruited through the YouTube channel Baba Vlogs boasting 300,000 subscribers for a security job in Russia — but instead he was said to have been roped into a month-long military training camp and then whisked off to the war zone, never to return.

“I think he hid from us the danger he was in,” Mangukiya’s father, Ashwin Mangukiya, told the outlet. “Our entire family is devastated by this. We are still trying to get back his dead body.”

Earlier this week, a video has gone viral showing seven men from Punjab claiming to have been tricked into fighting for Russia against their will — and begging the Indian government to bring them home.

Azad Yousuf Kumar, 31, from Kashmir, had accepted a job in Dubai but was instead taken to Russia and forced to fight in Ukraine. Faisal Bashir/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

The huddled men, seen dressed in army fatigues, said they had traveled to Russia as tourists in late December to celebrate the New Year, but were taken by a travel agent to neighboring Belarus, where they were detained for not having visas.

The crooked agent allegedly talked the stranded men into giving him more money, before ditching them.  

“The police handed us over to Russian authorities, who made us sign documents,” said one of the men in the video, “Now they are forcing us to fight in the war against Ukraine.” 

Azad Yousuf Kumar, 31, from Kashmir, accepted a job as a domestic helper in Dubai in December.

But his family said he was instead packed off to a training camp in Russia, where he was shot in the leg during an exercise — and then sent to fight in Ukraine.

“He wanted to go abroad because there are hardly any jobs here and his wife had just had a baby,” Kumar’s brother, Sajad, told The Guardian. “But he called us distressed to say he was sent to Russia from Dubai and made to join the military. He has been posted in a dangerous war zone, and he has to see injured every day, many with lost limbs and torn bodies.”

A viral video shows seven Indian men in fatigues claiming to have been tricked into fighting for Russia in Ukraine. NDTV

Last week, India’s Foreign Ministry said it was working to secure the release of approximately 20 of its citizens who were “stuck” in the Russian military.

“We are trying our best for early discharge. We are in regular touch with Russian authorities both here in Delhi and in Moscow,” said Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Randhir Jaiswal.

Indian nationals are not the only foreigners believed to be participating — either voluntarily or against their will — in Russia’s war.

It has been reported that 15,000 Nepali men have joined the Kremlin’s army. The majority of the recruits hail from poor villages where job opportunities are scant.

In many cases, the desperate men were lured by agents with false promises of high-salaried jobs not involving combat.

Upon reaching their destination, they were talked into signing contracts written in Russian and had their passports taken away, only then learning that they had unwittingly agreed to serve in President Vladimir Putin’s army for a year — or face jail time.

Between a dozen and 19 Nepalese were believed to have been killed fighting in Ukraine since the start of the conflict in February 2022.

Foreigners from impoverished villages in India and Nepal are sent to the war zone with little training. AP

Nandaram Pun, from Rolpa, Nepal, told The Guardian he had been offered to relocate to Germany for a job, with Russia being a mere transit stop on his journey.

But as soon as he got to Moscow, Pun said he was taken to a military training camp and taught to use a gun for the first time in his life. Before long, he was sent to Bakhmut — a city in eastern Ukraine that has become synonymous with bloody fighting, earning it the nickname “meat grinder.”

Pun said one day he was helping transport weapons when a Ukraine drone attacked his unit, leaving him riddled with shrapnel.

“I don’t want to be cured, because if they think I am better, then they will send me back to war again,” said Pun. “I don’t even have my passport. Please, I don’t want to die.”

Ramchandra Khadka, 37, from Kathmandu, is among the lucky ones. He had signed up to fight against Ukraine and survived, despite suffering injuries and witnessing horrific scenes in Bakhmut.

After returning to his homeland recently, Khadka told CNN he regrets his decision to get involved in te conflict.

“I didn’t join the Russian military for pleasure. I didn’t have any job opportunities in Nepal. But in hindsight, it wasn’t the right decision,” Khadka said. “We didn’t realize we would be sent to the frontlines that quickly and how horrible the situation would be.”

An Indian man working as a translator for the Russian Ministry of Defense at a recruitment facility that processes foreigners said many new arrivals from India and Nepal have no idea they are destined for the front lines.

“The agents persuade them that no harm will come to them. Given that these people come from poor backgrounds and spend a lot of money to reach Russia, they sign the contracts,” he said. “After that, they can’t back out.”

Latest news
Related news