Indians hired as ‘helpers’ forced to fight in Russia’s war

The victims belonging to Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and J&K seek government’s help to return

February 20, 2024 10:19 pm | Updated February 21, 2024 07:15 am IST - New Delhi

Indian nationals fighting the Russia-Ukraine war alongside Russia.

Indian nationals fighting the Russia-Ukraine war alongside Russia. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

At least three Indians were forced to fight alongside the Russians on the Russia-Ukraine border after they were allegedly conned by an agent and sent there to work as “army security helpers”, one of the victims told The Hindu.

Since November 2023, around 18 Indians are stranded at Mariupol, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Rostov-on-Don along the Russia-Ukraine border, and one person is said to have been killed in the ongoing war, an agent said. The two countries have been at war since February 24, 2022.

While a few Indians volunteered to join the International Legion created to fight Russian forces in Ukraine in 2022, the presence of Indians on Russian side in combat role has been reported the first time.

MP Owaisi flags issue

The family of one of the victims, who is from Hyderabad, has approached AIMIM Member of Parliament Asaduddin Owaisi. On January 25, Mr. Owaisi wrote to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and the Indian Embassy in Moscow, seeking the government’s intervention for their return.

The victims belong to Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. The Hindu has withheld their names.

One of the victims from Uttar Pradesh, who is in his early 20s and who wished to remain anonymous, said three of them were given basic training in handling arms and ammunition by the “Russian Army” and were packed off to Rostov-on-Don along the Russia-Ukraine border in January where they faced bullets and were forced to fight at gunpoint.

“We arrived here in November 2023, were made to sign contracts, which said that we are being hired as army security helpers. We were categorically told that we will not be sent to the battlefield and promised ₹1.95 lakh salary and ₹50,000 additional bonus per month. Except the ₹50,000 bonus for two months, I have not received any money,” he said.

He said he came to Russia with the help of an agent – Faisal Khan – who runs a You Tube channel titled “Baba Vlogs”.

On November 12, the U.P. resident was received in Russia by two Indian agents associated with Mr. Khan.

“On November 13, we were admitted into a camp and taken to a deserted place around two-and-half hours away from Moscow. We contacted the Indian agents and they assured us that we will be posted as helpers. We lived in tents and were trained to handle weapons. On January 4, we were sent to Donetsk to fight,” he said.

He said that after they were forced to fight, he found an opportunity to escape and threw away his weapon. “But I was caught and threatened at gunpoint. They asked me to transport goods from one building to another. The commander told us to walk maintaining a gap of five metres so that we do not become easy targets. In the short walk, we faced bullets 7-8 times, a local accompanying me was killed. On January 22, I managed to flee and got admitted to a hospital with frostbite injuries,” the victim said.

Pleas in vain

He added that for many days he did not have access to his phone and managed to contact his family after fleeing the war zone. “Repeated pleas to the Indian Embassy in Moscow have gone unheeded. I have been turned away several times. I do not have proper documents and have no money, the government is not helping us,” he said.

‘Life under threat’

One of the agents who received the victims in Russia told The Hindu that the men hail from different parts of India and face grave danger to life if the government does not act.

“They were offered to work as army helpers. The deal was that they would be given basic training for three months following which a psychological assessment and other tests will be done and willingness ascertained if they want to continue as kitchen helpers or any other job. But after a month, their passports were snatched, and they were forced to fight on behalf of Russia. People from other countries are also stuck here,” the agent said.

The MEA declined to comment on the specific case of Indian workers in Russia. According to sources, the Indian Embassy has been following up all such complaints they have received, but pointed out that many of those who claim being forced into labour at the border don’t want to leave the country. Many of them have paid high fees to recruiters to reach opportunities abroad and do not wish to be repatriated without having earned some money to repatriate to their families in India. As a result, officials say their hands are tied, although they are willing to help in any case involving Indian citizens in distress.

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