Indian Embassy asks J&K man to call Russian officials for info on his brother

Aijaz Ahmad Sheikh says his brother was forced to join the Russian Army on the frontlines after he left for the country hoping to secure the job of a ‘security helper’

April 24, 2024 10:12 pm | Updated April 25, 2024 07:21 am IST

A Russian soldier stands next to a T-90 Russian tank. File image used for representational purpose only.

A Russian soldier stands next to a T-90 Russian tank. File image used for representational purpose only. | Photo Credit: AP

Four months after he last heard from his brother who was pushed into the war zone on Russia-Ukraine border after being hired as a security helper by the Russian Army, the Indian Embassy in Moscow allegedly advised Jammu and Kashmir resident Aijaz Ahmad Sheikh to directly contact Russian officials seeking information on his brother.

Mr. Sheikh last spoke with his brother, Zahoor Ahmad Sheikh (27), on December 31 last year. Since then, the family has had no contact with Mr. Zahoor. Their elder brother Mukhtiar Sheikh, posted with the Border Security Force (BSF), was killed in an encounter with militants in 1999, Mr. Sheikh said.

“We are tired of calling the Indian Embassy in Moscow. A few days ago, they provided me numbers and e-mail IDs of the Russian government officials concerned. Some numbers belong to the Defence Ministry of Russia, even they are not responding to our calls,” Mr. Sheikh said.

Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) sources said that the Embassy has had no direct communication with Zahoor Sheikh but has been pursuing the issue of his release with the Russian authorities. “The request has been made not only with the Foreign Ministry but has also been taken up with Defence Ministry and Security Council. The Embassy will continue to pursue the case till the person is located and released,” an official said. 

Mohammad Mustafa, a resident of Kalaburgi in Karnataka said his brother Sameer Ahmed is also stuck in Russia and despite pleading the government for help, nothing has been done. “We received a message from him few days ago that he was being sent to danger zone,” said Mr. Mustafa. 

The Sheikhs live in a village at Karnah in J&K’s Kupwara district near the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan.

“We do not have money even to come to Delhi and meet with Ministers or officials here. When we came here few days ago, we could not meet anyone. People suggested that we go to Russia, but it will cost us at least ₹10 lakh, and we do not have that kind of money. We request the government to help us,” said Mr. Sheikh.

MEA sources said that the Embassy has had no direct communication with Zahoor Sheikh but has been pursuing the issue of his release with the Russian authorities. “The request has been made not only with the Foreign Ministry but has also been taken up with Defence Ministry and Security Council. The Embassy will continue to pursue the case till the person is located and released,” an official said.

Mr. Zahoor was working in Chandigarh till last year. He had a Bachelors degree in Agriculture, and decided to go to Russia after he came across a YouTube video that assured the job of a security helper with the Russian Army.

“He reached Russia in November 2023. He signed a contract in Russian language and was categorically told that he will not be sent to the war zone. We last spoke with him on December 31, and since then, we have not heard anything from him,” Sheikh said. 

The Hindu reported first on February 20 that at least three Indians who were hired as security helpers by Russia were forced to fight alongside the country’s forces on the Russia-Ukraine border. 

Officials have maintained that the Indian Embassy in Moscow has been taking up the case of every army recruit who has contacted them and wishes to return, with Russian authorities, estimating the number of those who wish to return at about 20. 

The officials concede, however, that there could be many more who have not been able to contact the embassy at this time, or want to return from the Russia-Ukraine battlefront but find another job in Russia itself, and thus may have not contacted the embassy. Diplomatic sources also said that while the Russian Embassy in Delhi and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have been closely engaged, this issue involved the Russian military authorities and hence the cases take longer to process, especially as the military officials point out that the Indians have voluntarily signed contracts to enlist. 

“We are putting all pressure on the authorities concerned so that all those Indians who are trapped there are brought back,” Minister of State for MEA V. Muraleedharan told a few distraught families when he met them in Thiruvananthapuram in March this year.

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