10 Nepalis from one town fighting in Ukraine

Young men from one neighbourhood of a town in Nepal all ended up in the Russian Army fighting the Ukrainians

Bikash Khumbu (1), Suraj Magranti (2) and Dal Bahadur Rai (3) of Letang are all in the Russian Army.

Bikas Khambu, 33, from Letang Municipality was an ambitious young man with a strong desire to become a Gurkha soldier in the British Army.  He enrolled at a centre training young aspirants for the selection process and was tested four times but not selected. 

Undeterred, Khambu remained steadfast in his pursuit until finally in August he got a tip from a childhood friend about the Russian Army opening recruitment to foreigners.

“There is a three month training, and by that time the war will be over,” the friend from Letang told him over the phone. “More risk means more money, why not take the chance?"

Convinced, Khambu deposited Rs 850,000 ($7,500) into his friend's account. He said goodbye to his wife Elisa Chemjong and flew out of Kathmandu on 4 October, the first day of the Dasain festival. 

He met up with Dal Bahadur Rai also from Letang, and flew on to Moscow. Rai had not told his family where he was going because they might dissuade him. Both were on Russian tourist visas.

"We told him not to be tempted by the money, especially because it was Russia,” his sister Bhima Limbu said. “But he went anyway.”

Khambu and Rai are not the only young men from Letang who have joined the Russian Army, there are ten families in just one neighbourhood in this town in the southeastern plains of Nepal to be enlisted to fight in Ukraine. Suraj Magrati was among others from Letang who were with Khambu on the flight to Dubai from Kathmandu on 4 October.

There could be more than ten, but those individuals could not be verified as having gone to Russia.

"I have heard about the young men joining the Russian Army, but no one has filed an application at the ward office for assistance or to search for these young men," said Ward Chair Ram Prasad Adhikari.  

Indeed, besides Letang, there are young men from other villages in this region of Nepal, which is the traditional recruitment area for Gurkha soldiers, to join the British and Indian Armies who have also joined the Russian military

"We've only heard about their departure for the Russian Army, however, there haven't been any official requests for rescue or search operations," says Letang mayor Bhupendra Kumar Lawati. 

Nepalis in Ukraine
Nepali soldiers in the Russian Army. Photo: MANSER RAI

Two months after they left, the young men have sent little information about their whereabouts or condition. But an audio recording of a call confirmed  Suraj Magrati was injured on the Ukraine frontlines. In the clip he has asked for emergency evacuation. 

Khambu has been out of contact for three weeks, says his wife Elisa who is very worried. Earlier, she had got information from other Nepalis that her husband had been taken prisoner by the Ukrainian Army.

“He told me to wait for a year and he would return with a lot of savings to take care of the family,” Elisa said.

Tika Gurung from Letang was stationed in the same camp, and has also been out of contact since 25 November — the same day that Elisa also got her last call from Khambu. Gurung’s brother Anesh says the Nepalis were taken to the frontlines that day. 

Meanwhile, Dal Bahadur Rai who also travelled to Moscow from Dubai with Khambu has reportedly been detained by the Russians for desertion.  "We've been told that he was caught while trying to escape and has been locked up in a bunker near the frontlines,” said his sister Bhima. 

Most of the men from Letang paid human traffickers between Rs500,000 to Rs900,000 to join the Russian Army where they were promised salaries of up to Rs500,000 a month, full military training and Russian citizenship

Two Nepalis who recently returned to Nepal after fleeing the frontlines, Manser Rai, and Chhatra Magar, both aged 32 from Letang, have been recounting their experience and dissuaded others from being tempted to go to Russia.

Manser wanted to join the Singapore Police, but was not selected and was convinced by recruiters that Russia was an attractive option. He flew to Moscow and signed the contract with the Russian Army on 16 November.

He has a wife, two children, and elderly parents, and Manser felt he could take care of them with earnings in the Russian military. But although promised three months of training, he and other Nepalis were immediately taken to the frontlines after 15 days in a camp.

Manser managed to escape and his journey back to Nepal took him via  Moscow, Azerbaijan and Delhi. Manser also convinced several other  villagers from Letang not to sign the contract and they returned to Nepal with him. They are now seeking refunds from the traffickers in Kathmandu. 

The families of other young men in Letang have heard these stories and want help from the government to repatriate them.

"There are elderly parents at home, my brother is confined in a bunker there,” says Bhima, Dal Bahadur Rai’s sister. “He left impulsively, and now the Russians are torturing him.”

So far, seven Nepalis are officially confirmed to have been killed in action while fighting on the Russian side against Ukraine. The deceased are Sandeep Thapalia from Gorkha, Gangaraj Moktan from Elam, Rajkumar Roka and Kusum Lama Roka from Dolakha, Pritam Karki from Syangja, Bharat Shah from Kailali, and Kundan Singh Nagal from Kanchanpur.

Four Nepali soldiers in the Russian Army are Ukrainian prisoners of war:  Bibek Khatri from Bardia, Siddharth Dhakal from Kavre, Bikas Rai from Letang, and Pratik Magar from Rolpa.