Nepalis dying in someone else's war

The stories of these 22 Nepalis in the Russian Army killed in Ukraine have the same plot

Twenty-two of the Nepalis killed in the Russian Army.

At least 25 Nepalis have officially died fighting for the Russian Army against Ukraine. But families say 39 have been killed in action.

Russian journalist Irina Kravtsova of Novaya Gazeta Europa (Новая газета Европа) who has been following the stories of the soldiers estimates there are about 1,000 Nepalis in the Russian Army.

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army

We tracked down the families of the 22 Nepalis killed, and the thread running through most of their stories was the same — their sons and husbands were looking for jobs that paid better than the Gulf to pay off debts. They had been lured by recruiters who promised high salaries and citizenship. Many were attracted by TikTok videos. Most families now say they were duped by recruiters.

Some of those killed were already in Russia on student or work visas, while others had military backgrounds in the Nepal Army, Police and a few even were Maoist guerrillas.

Sanjay KC

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

Sanjay KC of Banke was Rs9 million in debt after his hardware shop went bankrupt due to the pandemic. His father, Amar, sold their land to pay the interest of the loan. Sanjay met a recruiter who promised a job in Romania. It was only after his son left in September that his father found out Sanjay had gone to Russia instead. 

In November, during their last conversation, Sanjay tearfully told his father that he had joined the Russian Army and that conditions were bad. Sanjay’s family, including his wife and teenage son, learned of his death on 23 January. 

“Had I known where he was about to go, I would have called the police to stop him at Kathmandu airport,” says Amar.

Khagendra Raika Magar

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

After returning from Malaysia ten years ago, Khagendra Raika Magar got divorced. He was unable to find a job, and a neighbour put him in touch with a man named Chiranjivi Basnet, who promised to send him to Russia. His two sisters tried to stop him, but Khagendra did not listen. He borrowed Rs1.4 million to pay the recruiter. 

His last conversation with his family was on 1 March telling them he was being sent to the Ukraine front in three weeks. Khagendra’s name was on the Foreign Ministry’s list of KIA, but family members found out about it only after this reporter showed them the list last month.

Purna Bahadur Gurung

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

In Dhading, Purna Bahadur Gurung was a school van driver, but did not make enough to support his family. So, he borrowed Rs900,000 from relatives, friends and a savings cooperative to pay a recruiter for a job in Russia. He did not tell his family that it was a job in the Russian Army when he called in November. “He lied to us,” his wife Lilu recalls.

When the call finally came, it was not her husband’s voice, but a fellow Nepali soldier telling her that her husband had been killed. Lilu now has to take care of her 76-year-old mother-in-law, 11-year-old daughter and five-year-old son, as well as pay back the loan.

Sundar Moktan

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

Sundar Moktan spent four years in Malaysia before returning home to Rasuwa to become a contractor. But his business collapsed during the Covid lockdown. He told his wife Patali he was going to Croatia to work, but joined the Russian Army. After seeing terrifying videos of battles in TikTok, Patali grew increasingly apprehensive. On 30 December, the call came that he had been killed. Patali now has to take care of her mother-in-law and her two children, while trying to return the Rs1.8 million loan her husband took to pay his recruiter.

Nabin Shahi

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

Nabin Shahi left for Dubai after quitting his job with Nepal Army, while his wife Deepa worked in Oman. Back home in Jajarkot, their two children waited for the parents to come home. 

Like the others, Nabin was lured to join the Russian military by a Nepali recruiter in Dubai who promised a high salary and permanent residency in Russia. “We were told that he would never be in any danger,” says Deepa, who sent him Rs1.2 million from her savings to pay the recruiter. 

Nabin left for Moscow on 9 October, and his calls to Deepa stopped after the first two weeks. In February, she learned of her husband’s death on the news. Deepa came back to Nepal to perform her husband’s last rites and is leaving for Oman again. “I have to go back because we have to pay back the debt,” she says. 

Sukra Bahadur Tamang

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

Shukra Bahadur Tamang of Kathmandu left Nepal after a failed real estate deal that left him Rs5 million in debt. The 48-year-old left in October, telling his family he had a job as a security guard in Qatar. His wife Buddhi Maya found out he was enlisted in the Russian Army. She told him to run away and come back to Nepal. They lost touch. The very next month, she saw his name on a list of KIA in the media. 

“This debt will also take us to our grave,” says Buddhi Maya.

Somesh Sunar

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

A broker approached Somesh Sunar in Qatar and promised him a job in Russia for a fee of Rs500,000. Somesh called his wife Bishnu Maya on 9 December to tell her he was being deployed to the frontlines in Ukraine. They spoke one more time before he went out of touch. Weeks later, she was informed that Somesh had been killed. “I am not able to understand why he agreed to go to such a dangerous place,” says a tearful Bishnu Maya. 

Rupak Karki

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

Twenty-four-year-old Rupak Karki, an only child, joined the Russian Army after being unable to pay off the Rs1.5 million his family had borrowed. In November, Rupak told his mother Laxmi over a video call that he was going to join the military with his friends. “I was unaware that Russia was at war, and thought the job would be similar to the one in the Nepal Army,” Laxmi recalls. 

Rupak had gone out of contact, and weeks after his last call a friend phoned Laxmi to tell her he was dead. Rupak’s father has been listless with grief. 

Ganga Ram Adhikari

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

A recruiter approached Ganga Ram Adhikari, 33, while he was working as a driver in Qatar and promised a high-paying job in Russia. He flew off to Moscow on 20 November, and trained for two months before being sent to the front. He last spoke with his wife Anuradha on 18 January, a day before he was sent to the Donbas. 

On 26 January, Ganga Ram’s villagers in Jhapa received word from fellow Nepalis in Russia that he had been killed in action. His family refused to believe the news even after the Foreign Ministry confirmed it. They consulted an astrologer, who told them Ganga Ram would return. But he never did. 

Bharat Bahadur Shahi

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

When Dubai-based Kailali resident Bharat Bahadur Shahi decided to leave for Russia, his wife Bhadra told him it was too dangerous. He did not listen, and told her not to watch the news from Ukraine. Bhadra was pregnant, and had mortgaged their house to send Rs500,000 to her husband to pay the recruiter. 

At first, Bharat sent lighthearted videos from training to ease his wife’s worries. In November, just days after their daughter’s birth, Bharat told Bhadra over the phone that he was going to desert. She never heard from him again. 

A month later, fellow Nepali soldiers told Bhadra he had been killed on the Ukraine front. She is raising her two infants and struggling to pay back the mortgage.

Jit Bahadur BK

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

Jit Bahadur BK returned to Baglung after having worked in Qatar and Saudi Arabia for almost a decade. He drove a second-hand Bolero, but could not earn enough to support his family of five. In September last year, a recruiter lured him with the promise of a job in Russia and did not say it was in the military. Jit borrowed Rs600,000 on top of the Rs2.5 million he already owed for his car, and left for Moscow.

Jit’s wife Bishnu did not even know that Russia was at war with Ukraine. On 19 February, he was killed in action. Bishnu is now raising her three children by herself.

Hari Prasad Aryal

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

Hari Prasad Aryal joined the Nepal Army like his father before him. He was not happy there and subsequently tried to go to Korea or Oman, but could not land a proper job. He left his home in Syangja to fly to Dubai where his two brothers already worked. From there he reached Moscow in October 2023. He was in contact with his family until 5 December, and they were informed of his death a month later.

Ganga Raj Moktan

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

After serving five years in the Nepal Army, Ganga Raj Moktan was unemployed in his village in Ilam. He went to Dubai but was dissatisfied with his income. He paid a recruiter Rs600,000 for a job in Malta, but then met another broker who promised him a job in Russia for a Rs700,000 fee. His wife Yankila protested, but he ignored her.

Yankila spoke to her husband for the last time on Laxmi Puja on 12 October. She waited for the next call that never came. The Nepal Embassy in Moscow informed her in December that he had been killed just three days after their last phone call. Yankila has their 7-year-old son and is saddled with Rs1.4 million in debt.

Dewan Rai

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

Dewan Rai had passed his Korean EPS exam, but left to work in Russia after Korea halted the employment scheme during the pandemic. 

The 26-year-old had been living in a hostel with 10 others in Moscow, struggling with the Russian language and work, when a recruiter enlisted him in the Russian Army.

Dewan told his parents and brother back in Pokhara not to worry, and sent Rs300,000 as his first salary. Then he was out of touch. 

He was killed on 1 October, but his family only found out a month later. “We had no idea he would give up his studies to fight a war,” says his brother Ashik, who is now planning to migrate himself to pay back his brother’s loans.

Pritam Karki

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

Syangja native Pritam Karki was a Nepal Army soldier for 16 years and worked as a security guard after retirement. He guarded the UN office in Kabul, and sent money home regularly to support his parents, wife and two sons. 

After the Taliban took over, Pritam met a friend who was going to Russia and was lured by the prospect of Russian citizenship. His family had no idea he had been enlisted into the Russian Army, and in November found out he had been killed in action.

Ghana Singh Pun

Ghana Singh Pun of Rolpa went to Dubai for two years after being unable to earn enough to support his family through his mobile phone shop in Dang. But his financial situation did not improve, and he had accumulated a debt of Rs1.1 million. The 45-year-old then began to look for brokers who could get him to Europe and met one who sent him to Russia for Rs1.3 million. 

“He had been out of touch since he left in December,” says his relative Tulsi Prasad. “On 23 February, we received news that he had died.” Ghana Singh is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.

Raj Kumar Giri

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

Raj Kumar Giri's work took him to different places from his home in Naubise to Kuwait and Dubai where he served as a security guard. 

He paid a broker Rs800,000 to leave for Russia in September last year. His family was notified of his death on the frontlines three months later, but they held on to hope that he was alive until the Foreign Ministry confirmed the news a month later. 

“We told him not to risk his life by joining a war, but he told us that life is not lived without risks,” his wife Sharmila recalls.

Raj Kumar Roka

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

Dolakha’s Raj Kumar Roka, 35, ran a thriving furniture shop in Kathmandu until Covid brought his business to a halt. As losses and debts piled up, he decided to go to Russia to pay back Rs10.5 million in loans. He left in October, and within a month his family heard he was dead. 

“We thought he had made the right decision in leaving for Russia,” says Raj Kumar’s brother Suman who did not know he was deployed on the frontlines. Raj Kumar’s wife is raising their two children on her own. 

Kundan Singh Nagal

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

A constable in the Armed Police Force, Kundan Singh Nagal lost his job in the Dubai Police five years ago and came back to build a house in Mahendranagar. Even though he owed Rs3 million for his house, Kundan, 36, took out an additional loan to go to Russia in October. He called his wife Pratiksha that he was being sent to the Red Zone, and was unsure if he could survive. News of his death came on 20 December. 

Their house remains unfinished, and Pratiksha and her two young children are deep in grief and debt.

Anit Sah

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

Anit Sah of Mahottari helped his father run a pharmacy because he could not see any career prospects for himself as an overseer. He spent Rs600,000 to go to Russia two years ago after hearing that it would be easier to get an engineering degree there. 

Five months into his studies, the 23-year-old called his family to tell them that he and his friends had joined the Russian Army instead. His family tried to dissuade him, but in vain. That was the last time they heard from him. 

Anit was confirmed dead five months ago, and his family is still waiting until the Russian Embassy sends his remains. 

Sandeep Thapaliya

Nepalis killed in the Russian Army NT

Sandeep Thapaliya from Gorkha worked at the lab in Teku Hospital during the Covid pandemic and struggled to find work once his contract ended. In 2022, he left for Russia to become a lab technician, but joined the Russian Army instead. 

“Out of the blue, he sent photos of himself in an army uniform," recalls Sandeep’s sister Shanta. “Why he decided to do such a thing, we have still not been able to understand.”

Sandeep spoke with his family for the last time on 24 May 2023. In October, his family finally received news of his death. 

Padam Bahadur Ghimire

Tina Ghimire received a call from her husband Padam from Russia on 30 November after more than a month of silence. A Nepal Army retiree from Udaypur told her the war was much more dangerous than what the recruiter, Hari Bishowkarma of Sumeru Manpower in Kathmandu, had told them. Padam was caught while trying to desert, and said he was being sent back to the frontlines and would call if he could. 

Padam never did call. On 14 March the Russian Embassy in Kathmandu called to tell Tina that her husband had been killed. Besides the grief, she worries about how to take care of two daughters and pay back Rs900,000 Padam had borrowed to pay the recruiter.