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Indian victims of Russia’s job scams forced to fight against Ukraine, families desperate to return them

Indian workers lured to Russia for jobs, forced to fight against Ukraine, their families attempt rescues amidst minimal government support, with significant human trafficking arrests but no substantial progress in repatriation.
Mother of Azad Kumar displaying the photo of her son wearing Russian military uniform, after he reportedly was lured into the RUssian military service. Photo: Faisal Bashir / SOPA Images via Reuters file, via NBC.
Indian victims of Russia’s job scams forced to fight against Ukraine, families desperate to return them

Indian families are increasingly desperate as they attempt to rescue their loved ones who were misled into dangerous combat roles in the Russian military fighting against Ukraine. These individuals were initially lured to Russia with promises of employment as cooks, housekeepers, and other non-combatant positions but were instead coerced into military engagements upon arrival. NBC reports.

Desperate for more manpower after losing soldiers in Ukraine, Russia deceives foreign civilians, including Indians, into combat roles by promising well-paid non-combat positions. This recruitment drive extends globally, targeting economically challenged nations like Nepal and Central Asian countries, as part of Russia’s broader effort to bolster its forces. India, a longstanding ally of Russia, has refrained from explicitly condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Families desperate to return their loved ones home

Raja Begum of Poshwan, a village in Indian-administered Kashmir told NBC that her son, Azad Yousuf Kumar, was promised a housekeeping job in Dubai. He paid 300,000 rupees ($3,600) to a job consultant known for recruiting through a popular YouTube channel. Instead of heading to the UAE, he was rerouted to a military training facility in Moscow soon after his arrival in Russia, where he underwent weapons training and was eventually deployed to the front lines in Ukraine.

This story echoes across many families throughout India, who report similar fraudulent schemes ensnaring their loved ones. Sajad Ahmad Kumar, another victim’s brother, recounted how at least a dozen men were trapped by the same recruiter, illustrating a pattern of deceit affecting a significant number of Indian nationals.

Indian officials busted a trafficking ring but didn’t repatriate those forcibly drafted

Earlier, the British Defense Ministry reported that facing high casualties in Ukraine and reluctant to further mobilize its citizens, Russia is recruiting migrant workers with financial incentives to boost troop levels without triggering unpopular domestic conscription, though their numbers remain low, according to UK intelligence.

NBC says the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation has recognized the severity of the issue, revealing at least 35 Indian nationals were coerced into combat roles and announcing the arrest of 35 individuals linked to human trafficking. They also seized substantial evidence, including cash and incriminating documents, during nationwide raids. However, these are only a handful of cases known to the Indian authorities of such allegedly unintentional Indian mercenaries in Russia.

Despite these efforts, families argue that the Indian government’s response has been lackluster at best.  Many families, feeling helpless, are considering traveling to Russian-occupied areas in Ukraine to bring back their loved ones themselves. This approach is not only dangerous, as it is a combat zone, but also doubtful to turn successful at best and illegal under Ukrainian law.

Mohammad Mustafa, from southwestern India’s state of Karnataka, expressed his frustration to NBC over the lack of updates and proactive measures from Indian officials, underscoring a pervasive sense of abandonment felt by the families.

At the diplomatic level, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs claims to be in constant communication with Russian authorities to secure the safe return of these individuals, but the repatriation does not happen.

In early March, Indian media reported two confirmed Indian fatalities among those recruited.

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