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Nepali mercenaries in Russia-Ukraine war: A tale of deception, desperation and devastation

Nepali mercenaries, enticed by promises of Russian citizenship and higher salaries, find themselves caught in the brutal conditions of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, with returnees sharing tales of deception, economic desperation, and the harsh reality of war.

Nepali mercenaries in Russia-Ukraine war: A tale of deception, desperation and devastation snt
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First Published Feb 8, 2024, 8:24 PM IST

Nepali mercenaries have found themselves entangled in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, drawn to the war-torn region by promises of Russian citizenship, monthly salaries as high as $2,200, and a chance to escape the economic struggles back home. However, the grim reality of the battlefield has left many wounded and disillusioned, prompting warnings from returnees to potential recruits about the horrors of war.

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine two years ago, over 200 Nepali citizens have reportedly enlisted in the Russian army, according to the Nepali government. However, some estimates suggest the actual number may be much higher, reaching 2,500 to 3,000, encompassing students, former soldiers, and even ex-Maoist combatants. The lure of financial gains and Russian citizenship has been a significant driving force behind Nepali involvement.

Also read: Xi Jinping urges China and Russia to defend sovereignty against external interference, indirect attack on West

Nepali mercenaries undergo basic training with Russian forces, facing the harsh reality of war and brutal conditions. The rugged Himalayan terrain of Nepal, combined with the economic hardships, has historically made the country a source of formidable soldiers, exemplified by the Gurkhas in the British army. However, the Nepali government strictly permits foreign combat service only with countries like Britain and India, leaving those in Russia's employ in a legal gray area.

Nepali mercenaries in Russia-Ukraine war: A tale of deception, desperation and devastation snt

Survivor recounts horror of Russia-Ukraine War

Survivors like Surya Sharma (name changed for legal reasons), who underwent basic training with Russian forces, recount the horror of being in a unit attacked on their way to the eastern Ukrainian frontline. Many Nepali mercenaries have faced injury and death, with returnees describing the battlefield as a place where life hangs by a thread. Some have been wounded and scarred, both physically and mentally, enduring pain and trauma that will likely last a lifetime.

"I watched my friends die in front of me. Nepalis going probably cannot even imagine how horrific the war is," Sharma said in an interview with AFP.

He added, "When the bombs and bullets were raining, I thought my life was ending, that that was it. I was there to die. We were among the early ones to join, but now there are many Nepalis, there must be 2,500 to 3,000."

24-year-old Sharma endured excruciating pain with every step due to metal fragments lodged in his legs, a painful reminder of his ordeal. In his interview with AFP, he recounted being deceived by a Nepali agent after borrowing money to travel to Russia on a student visa, only to find himself unable to secure legal employment except for joining the battlefield.

After serving in Nepal's army for over ten years and later working for the police in Dubai, a 39-year-old man amassed approximately $15,000 within six months before sustaining injuries that forced his return to Nepal; he plans to utilize the funds to construct a house.

"It is a war, and we are taking a risk. If there were good employment opportunities in Nepal, no one would go," he told AFP.

Nepali mercenaries in Russia-Ukraine war: A tale of deception, desperation and devastation snt

According to the foreign ministry in Kathmandu, at least 12 Nepalis have lost their lives, and another five are currently held as prisoners of war in Ukraine.

Returnees claim that the actual death toll is considerably higher, with reports suggesting that Nepalis have also fought for Ukraine.

In a bid to entice fighters, Russian President Vladimir Putin has dangled the offer of Russian citizenship, which grants recipients the right to work, along with monthly salaries reaching as high as $2,200.

This proposition holds allure for individuals in a country with a GDP per capita hovering just above $1,300, making it one of the lowest in Asia.

To prevent their recruitment, Nepal has prohibited its citizens from engaging in any form of employment in Russia or Ukraine.

Also read: Anti-Putin campaigner Boris Nadezhdin barred from Russia's presidential election

In Nepal, at least 12 individuals have been apprehended for orchestrating the dispatch of individuals to fight on behalf of Russia.

According to law enforcement officials, these individuals are frequently transported through India or the United Arab Emirates and are trained in elaborate deception techniques to evade detection by authorities.

"No matter how much you prepare, it does not work when the bombs fall and the drones attack," a 27-year-old wounded Nepali told AFP from his hospital in Russia. "I request others -- do not come."

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