Recruiters of Nepalis into Russian Army identified

But despite that, known traffickers are absconding or have been let off because of political connections

Mohan Oli and Raj Oli have been identified as two of the recruiters luring fellow Nepalis to joint he Russian Army.

Mohan Oli and his brother Raj have been identified as two of the recruiters who have been luring fellow Nepalis to be conscripted into the Russian Army by promising them huge salaries and citizenship in exchange for exorbitant fees.

This investigation has identified some of the human traffickers with information from Nepalis who deserted the Russian military from the Ukrainian war zone to return to Kathmandu.

One of the ex-soldiers who returned is Khagendra Khatri from Rolpa who was recruited by Mohan Oli and his accomplice Nim Bahadur Kunwar (alias Sushant) just after he had graduated in agriculture from a college in Dang.

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Unable to find a job to pay back loans his father had taken for his education, he had begun language classes to migrate for work in Korea.

Khagendra’s neighbours in Dang were two men from Salyan: Sushant and Mohan Oli. They, along with their companion Ganesh Neupane, convinced Khagendra that ensuring selection for Korean was not worth the hassle and money. They told him joining the Russian Army was a much better option with a monthly salary of Rs300,000 and Russian citizenship after a year.

Sushant and Mohan had sent another Nepali, Abhishek Buda of Rolpa, to the Russian Army previously and got him to also persuade Khagendra. Abhishek, who had not yet been sent to the battlefront at the time, enthusiastically obliged, encouraging Khagendra to join as well.

Recruiters of Nepalis into Russian Army identified
A receipt of money deposited in the account of Nim Bahadur Kunwar and Ganesh Neupane.

The recruiters also convinced Khagendra’s relative Dal Bahadur Oli of Rolpa to go to Russia with him. The two paid Mohan Oli Rs300,000 each in cash and deposited another Rs400,000 each in Sushant’s bank account.

Their visas arrived surprisingly rapidly within ten days of the transaction, indicating some collusion of the recruiters with the Russian authorities. On 15 October last year, Khagendra and Dal Bahadur met five other recruits also flying to Russia.

By the time they reached Dubai to board a flight to Moscow, the number of Nepalis had swelled to 52. Blissfully unaware of the intensity of the war, the Nepalis were in high spirits during the flight. 

In Moscow, a Russian agent took all the Nepalis to a military recruitment centre. But Khagendra was held back for two more days, as the agent wanted him to pay an additional Rs50,000. Once he did, he joined the rest at the recruitment centre, where there were another 150 Nepali conscripts.

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Khagendra was to join the ‘Group Seven Battalion’ and had to sign a contract written in Russian. He used Google Translate and found out that the recruits would not be paid Rs10 million in case of death or injury as he had been promised back in Nepal. 

Khagendra and his group were then taken to a training centre which was a day away by bus. But instead of receiving training for six months they were sent after two weeks of weapons and drone training to the trenches on the Ukrainian front.

Khagendra had joined a WhatsApp chatroom of the Group Seven Battalion, and started seeing gruesome videos of Nepalis killed and wounded in battle.

Recruiters of Nepalis into Russian Army identified
Khagendra Khatri from Rolpa bribed his Russian commander and walked through the forest under the cover of the night to get to Moscow before returning back home.

Khagendra bribed his commander with 17,000 rubles (Rs26,000) to let him go back to Nepal to attend to a sick relative, and snuck out of the barracks on 29 October with his relative Dal Bahadur. They walked through the forest under the cover of the night and eventually got a cab driver to take them to Moscow, 14 hours away. To his surprise, the cabbie did not want to be paid.

In any case, Khagendra had run out of money by that time, but got in touch with folks back home to book him a flight back to Nepal.

On 2 November, just two weeks after leaving Kathmandu he was back. He tracked down his recruiter Sushant (Nim Bahadur Kunwar) in Nepalganj pretending to send more of his friends to Russia. 

Khagendra demanded his money back, but the cheque Nim Bahadur wrote him bounced. The recruiter then fled and could not be contacted. He filed a human trafficking and banking offence complaint at the Nepal Police Anti-Human Trafficking Bureau. But he has not heard from them.

Khagendra is heavily indebted, and wants his Rs700,000 back so he can try going to another country. Khagendra’s relative Dal Bahadur, has gone to India to find work.

Meanwhile, the family of Tara Gharti of Salyan, one of the five Nepalis Khagendra and Dal Bahadur met at Kathmandu airport the day they flew to Dubai, were informed that he had been killed in action on the frontlines in Ukraine. 

Abhishek Buda, who initially encouraged Khagendra to join the Russian Army has also been killed. 

Statements from a dozen other Nepalis who deserted and returned from Russia reveal an international network of human traffickers who extort thousands of Nepalis and other nationals to send unemployed youth to join the Russian Army.

All of the Nepali recruits said they paid traffickers between Rs700,000 to Rs1 million to go to Russia. From their testimonies, it is clear the Russians use the Nepalis as human shields and they only have a 5% chance of survival.

Because there is no bilateral military agreement between Nepal and Russia, the wounded are not entitled for compensation, and the families of those killed are unable to arrange for the bodies to be brought home.

Some 100 Nepalis have managed to desert like Khagendra Khatri, and again paid traffickers to bring them back home. Hundreds of others are out of touch with their families. 

One of them is Ram Kumar Pradhan of Makwanpur, who had previously been in the Nepal Army. After leaving, he could not find another job and when the 2015 earthquake destroyed his house he borrowed Rs800,000 to pay a trafficker to take him to Russia, little knowing what he was getting into.

Ram Kumar’s brother Babu Kaji says that the two had talked on WhatsApp two days before he was sent to the frontlines in Ukraine. He had also sent a picture of himself in Russian military combat gear.

“They are sending me to war on 16 October,” Ram Kumar had told his brother. “I have no idea what is going to happen. I will call you once I return.”

He never called. Foreign Ministry’s Consular Department told Babu Kaji recently that he had been killed in Ukraine. 

“He trusted the traffickers to get him a high-paying job in Russia because he needed the money,” says Babu Kaji. “Now the government tells us he has been killed, but they have not provided us any evidence of his death.”

Recruiters of Nepalis into Russian Army identified
Babu Kaji Pradhan, brother of Ram Kumar who joined the Russian Army and has since been killed.

D B Gurung of Kathmandu had flown out together with Ram Kumar to join the Russian Army but was returned home by Qatar immigration. He tried again but was turned back this time by Russian immigration. But his family has not heard from him. 

Before he disappeared, Gurung told relatives he and Ram Kumar had been sent to Russia by a recruiter named Nabaraj KC and a manpower agency operator called Suraj Thapa. He had also paid them Rs800,000.

Their air tickets were arranged by a travel agency called New Nepal Education World. Both Navaraj K C and Suraj Thapa have fled to India.

Ram Kumar’s brother Babu Kaji contacted Navaraj KC on WhatsApp, but he told him he was only responsible for the ticket to Mosow. He then went to the recruitment agency pretending to be a client who wanted to go to Russia but Suraj Thapa was not there.

“After that one conversation, he disappeared from WhatsApp,” says Babu Kaji. 

Tirtha Raj Pandey was also a Nepal Army veteran, and had been a bodyguard for former Education Minister Devendra Paudel before retiring. He had been living in Surkhet, and had come to Kathmandu last May after hearing word about a job opening up in the Dubai Royal Guard.

Tirtha Raj was approached by a man named Kuber Karki from Dhading at Burger House in Gongabu. Kuber told him joining the Russian Army paid more than Dubai Royal Guard and promised a salary of Rs300,000 and eventual Russian citizenship. 

Recruiters of Nepalis into Russian Army identified
Tirtha Raj Pandey refused to sign the contract and was let go by the Russian Army, fearing he would convince other recruits to similarly decline.

Desperate, Tirtha Raj borrowed Rs650,000 to pay Kuber’s accomplice: the same Raj Oli, the brother of Mohan Oli who recruited Khagendra Khatri. He flew from Kathmandu via Dubai on 30 September last year, and there at Moscow airport to pick him up was a Russian agent who identified himself as Alex.

When he reached the military training facility on 3 October, Tirtha Raj was handed a 22-page contract in Russian, which when he translated had none of the terms Raj Oli in Nepal had mentioned.

There were also Indian agents at the Moscow training centre, and when they saw Tirtha Raj hesitate, they warned him in Hindi that he will face a 15 year jail sentence if he refused to sign.

“I told them I would rather go to jail than sign the agreement,” Tirtha Raj recalls telling the Indians. “Maybe they were worried I would convince the other recruits, so they let me go.”

Tirtha Raj paid another Rs400,000 to a trafficker to get him back to Nepal. In Kathmandu, he confronted Raj Oli who promised to return him some of the fee but disappeared soon after.

So far, 49 Nepalis in the Russian Army have been confirmed killed in action in Ukraine, and 41 others are probably also dead as per information from fellow-Nepali soldiers, but there is no official verification yet. 

The Campaign to Save the Lives of Nepali Citizens has so far collected details of 991 Nepali mercenaries in the Russian Army. Of these, 127 injured in action are being treated in hospitals in Russia while 272 have been out of contact with their families for the past eight months. The Nepal Embassy has made travel documents for 110 Nepalis who escaped the war zone so they could return. 

Returnees paint a gruesome picture of life in the trenches under constant attack from Ukrainian drones and artillery. But the Nepalis were also constantly beaten by Russian soldiers, many of whom are prisoners convicted of murder, rape, or armed robbery. The convicts have their sentences waived, and if they survive can return home as war heroes.

The recruitment of Nepali citizens into a foreign military other than the Indian and British Armies, or for security duty in Singapore, Oman and Brunei is illegal. India has actually stopped recruitment of Nepali nationals into its army.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine two and a half years ago, President Vladimir Putin opened the way for foreign nationals to join the Russian Army and announced an attractive salary, Russian citizenship, passport and residential facilities, among others. This lured many Nepalis, including those studying in Russia and some already working as security guards in Dubai or Doha.

During training, Russian officers encouraged them to post videos on TikTok of them in smart uniforms, posing with assault rifles, smiling and having a great time. From testimonies of returnees, it is clear the TikTok videos were more effective in convincing them to join the Russian Army.

“After leaving the Nepal Army, my husband was working as a cook in Dubai. There, he came in contact with a recruiter and he ended up in Russia,” says Deepa Singh Shahi, wife of Nabin Shahi of Jajarkot, one of the Nepalis killed in Ukraine.

Recruiters of Nepalis into Russian Army identified
Deepa Singh Shahi, wife of Nabin Shahi of Jajarkot was working as a cook in Dubai before he joined the Russian Army.
Recruiters of Nepalis into Russian Army identified
Nabin Shahi was killed in the Ukranian front. Also pictured, his Russian military ID.

Krishna Bahadur of Dailekh has shrapnel wounds all over his body. Surgeons removed four bullets from his left arm and two from his right thigh. He escaped the Russian Army at a huge cost, economically, physically and mentally.

“I paid Rs800,000 for the jobs and another 1.1 million to come back home,” says Krishna Bahadur, a former Nepal Army soldier. He was attracted to the job in Russia after watching videos of neighbours from his village who posted them on TikTok from their training centre.

Foreign Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha spoke in March with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov asking him to stop the recruitment of Nepali mercenaries, to send those already there back, and to compensate the dead and wounded and also send bodies home.

Foreign Ministry’s Amrit Bahadur Rai says Lavros raised the issue of modalities for implementation. “But there has been no progress since then,” he admitted.

The government has not apprehended the human traffickers involved even though they have been identified.

“Several recruiters have escaped and fled abroad, the authorities are not even interested in prosecuting those who are here,” says Kritu Bhandari of the Campaign to Save the Lives of Nepali Citizens.

Bhandari collected the names of 61 traffickers involved in recruiting Nepalis into the Russian Army and submitted them with evidence to Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane on 5 April. The police did arrest 22 labour recruiters, travel agents and some ex-servicemen. Some were told to refund the money, but most have been released.

Twelve recruiters, including the owner of an educational consultancy, were arrested in December on charges of trafficking. Among them were Hari BK, a Nepali Army retiree, and two others, Sujata Dahal and Ishwar Adhikari.

A case was filed against four of them in the Kathmandu District Court but they were acquitted for lack of evidence. Bhandari believes they had political connections. 

Superintendent of Police Gautam Mishra, Director of the Human Trafficking Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police, says his agency is actively pursuing traffickers. 

He claimed: “We are on their tail, and will see results in a few days.” 

Center for Investigative Journalism - Nepal