531 Nepalis in Russian Army

Finally, a precise number of Nepalis who are fighting for the Russians in Ukraine, whom their families want returned home

Relatives of Nepalis in the Russian Army at a press conference on Saturday. All photos: SUMAN NEPALI

Families of Nepali who enlisted in the Russian Army after being promised huge salaries and citizenship now want to come home and their families are campaigning in Kathmandu to pressure both governments. 

Kritu Bhandari, who is leading the campaign, said she had counted at least 531 Nepalis in the Russian Army based on information given by family members. All are on the Ukraine front. More than 1,000 relatives have contacted the campaign to appeal for their return. 

“We have been reaching out to the families of the Nepalis who joined the Russian Army to get more details,” said Bhandari, adding that the campaign is lobbying the Nepali and Russian government to facilitate their return. 

Families of 127 of the Nepali soldiers on the Ukraine front have appealed for their return, and family members of 116 of those injured during combat have provided details of their state. However, says Bhandari, 272 Nepalis in the Russian military are out of touch. 

So far, 16 Nepali soldiers have died in combat, including Raj Kumar Roka of Dolakha, Bharat Bahadur Shah of Kailali, Devan Rai of Kaski, Ganga Raj Moktan of Ilam, Rupak Karki of Kapilvastu, Sandip Thapaliya of Gorkha, Kundan Singh Nagal of Darchula, Sanjay KC of Banke, Sundar Moktan of Rasuwa, Jit Bahadur Pun of Dang, Pritam Karki and Hari Prasad Aryal of Syangja, Raj Kumar Giri and Purna Bahadur Gurung of Dhading, as well as Sajan Gurung and Santosh Gurung of Lamjung.

531 Nepalis in Russia NT

The campaign has submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal demanding he take diplomatic initiatives for the return of the remains of those killed, treatment of those injured in combat, as well as the rescue and repatriation of Nepalis who remain in the military. They have also asked for compensation to the families of the dead and injured.

Family members of the men killed also lit lamps at Bhasmeswor Ghat in Pashupati on Saturday evening to pray for the return of their loved ones.

Nepali soldiers who have deserted the Russian military and come back to Nepal have spoken of poor treatment, lack of proper combat training, and not being paid the salary promised by recruiters in Nepal and the Gulf. 

They say that the number of Nepalis in active combat zones is much higher than the Nepal government’s estimates. This paper previously reported on 10 young men from the same neighbourhood of a town in Nepal who ended up in the Russian military who said there were 200 Nepalis in just one training camp.

531 Nepalis in Russia NT
Family members of the men killed fighting for the Russian Army lit lamps at Bhasmeswor Ghat in Pashupati on Saturday.

Meanwhile, four Nepali soldiers in the Russian Army are known to have been captured and detained by Ukrainian forces: Bibek Khatri from Bardia, Siddharth Dhakal from Kavre, Bikas Rai from Letang, and Pratik Magar from Rolpa. A few Nepalis are also fighting on the other side in the Ukrainian Army. 

The Nepal government has tried to control nationals going to Russia, and arrested recruiters said to be involved in supplying soldiers to the Russian Army. Recruiters are said to have lured young Nepalis to Russia with promises of six months of training during which they are paid Rs500,000 a month, as well as eventual Russian citizenship.

More than anything else, Nepali recruitment in the Russian Army demonstrates the desperation of the youth in Nepal and the lengths they are willing to go to get well-paying jobs. 

Last week, the Indian government also officially asked Russia to facilitate the return of its nationals who are also fighting in Ukraine. India has called its nationals being involved in ‘army support jobs’, but most reports say they are seeing action on the Ukraine front. There are said to be hundreds of Indians in the Russian Army, and at least one has been reported killed in action.