India takes steps to help repatriate citizens ‘lured’ into Russia-Ukraine war

Families call for action to discharge Indian men 'forced by agents' to join Russian army after being promised other jobs

A protest in Riga, Latvia, against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his country’s invasion of Ukraine. Bloomberg
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India is attempting to have citizens who joined the Russian Army unwittingly as support staff discharged after families appealed to the Foreign Ministry for their repatriation.

The families allege the workers were lured or forced by agents to join Russia in the war against Ukraine and are now stranded near the border separating the two countries.

“Each and every such case brought to the attention of the Indian embassy in Moscow has been strongly taken up with the Russian authorities and those brought to the attention of the ministry have been taken up with the Russian embassy in New Delhi,” the Indian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday.

“We remain committed, as a matter of top priority, to actively pursue with the Russian authorities all the relevant cases of Indian nationals for an early discharge from the Russian army.”

Moscow started a war against Ukraine in February 2022.

Since then, an estimated 10,000 civilians, 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers and a reported 75,000 Russian soldiers have been killed.

Both sides have deployed tens of thousands of soldiers, including foreign mercenaries, to the front lines of the bloodiest conflict in Europe since the Second World War.

At least a dozen Indian men, aged between 22 and 31, were reportedly hired agents of Indian origin to work in Russia.

Once they had reached Moscow, they were allegedly drafted into the army and forced to fight alongside Russian forces, their families have alleged.

The ministry rejected media reports of the government dragging its feet over bringing back its citizens.

These were “inaccurate reports”, the ministry said.

Hemil Ashvinbhai Mangukiya, 23, from Gujarat, was killed after being struck by a Ukrainian missile strike in Donetsk last week, according to media reports.

Sajad Kumar has called for action so his brother Aazad Yousuf Kumar can be returned to India.

Sajad told The National: “My brother is extremely worried because he thinks he can be sent to the front line. He is desperately waiting to be rescued.

"He has a bullet injury and is undergoing treatment at a hospital close to the Ukraine border."

Aazad, 31, from Pulwama district in Indian Kashmir, worked as a labourer digging borewells in his hometown.

He left for Russia on December 14 after being lured by a YouTube influencer for a kitchen cleaner’s job offering 150,000 rupees ($1,800) a month.

The agent charged him 300,000 rupees to arrange the job.

But when Aazad reached Moscow, his phone and passport were taken away and the family lost contact with him for 25 days, Sajad said.

Aazad and three other men were all made to sign agreements written in Russian and were handed over to the army, where they underwent 15 days of training before being sent to the Ukraine border, his brother said.

“He called us a few days ago and told us that he was forced to join the army and he got a bullet injury during the training," Sajad said. "He has been shifted to a hospital close to the border."

Updated: February 26, 2024, 1:12 PM