From frying pan into fire for Nepalis in Russian Army

Seven Nepalis in the Russian Army have been killed, and Ukraine has captured four

Photos of Kundan Nagal from social media.

Several of the seven Nepalis who joined the Russian Army and were killed in the Ukraine war were retired from the Nepal police and military, or were former Maoist guerrillas.  

On Wednesday, Nepal’s foreign ministry announced the death of the seventh known Nepali killed in action on the Ukraine front. He is Kundan Nagal from one of Nepal’s remotest districts, Darchula.

Five years ago he had retired from Nepal’s Armed Police Force (APF), a group that was formed in 2000 before the Nepal Army got involved in the insurgency to fight the Maoist rebels.

The Foreign Ministry did not reveal any details about Nagal, but Nepali Times has learnt that he had been in the APF for 14 years  after the ceasefire. The APF mainly guards infrastructure and border areas of Nepal.

Nagal is said to have decided to quit the APF and also leave Nepal because he was worried about not being able to support his family with the salary he got in Nepal. He first migrated to Dubai and worked in the police for three years.

During the Covid pandemic, he left that job and returned to Nepal and moved his family to Mahendranagar in the plains of western Nepal. His wife and two children live there.

Nagal’s former colleagues in the APF remember him as an able trainer, who was lured by traffickers in Dubai in November to join the Russian Army and promised a big salary.

Because of his police background and familiarity with firearms he was immediately deployed on the Ukraine front, and had called his family on 7 November to say he had been sent to ‘Red Zone’ and would not have reliable mobile connections. 

“He had no illusions that it was dangerous where he was going,” recalls Kundan’s brother Rabindra. “He told me he did not know whether he would come out of it alive.”

But the very next day on 8 November, a Nepali fellow-soldier somehow got word to Nepal that Kundan had been injured. But he had been out of contact since then, until the Foreign Ministry announced he had died on 20 December.

Meanwhile, Kundan’s wife Pratikshya was still waiting to hear that his injuries were being treated. Out of the blue, she found out through the media the Foreign Ministry’s press statement that her husband was dead. 

The only other information the ministry divulged was his passport number, and it was on that basis that the family was sure it was him. Rabindra is convinced that his brother’s body is not going to come back.

Pratikshya is in shock and in no condition to speak to anyone. Her husband had been sending money regularly from Dubai, and the family’s new house is nearing completion. Kundan had not been able to send any more from Russia after he got there last month.

“The real worry is the children and how they will be raised,” says Bikram Kunwar, Pratikshya’s brother. 

Two other ex-APF security guards in Dubai had also gone to Russia with Kundan. The two are also on the frontlines, and have told their families that they left Nepal because of low pay in the police force.

Another Nepali in the Russian Army, Bharat Shah, was killed on 20 November in Avdiivka but the family got the news from fellow Nepalis last week. Shah had also been wounded on the frontlines, and died because of delayed treatment.

Shah’s family carried out a ritual funeral for him on the banks of the Karnali last week. He had a wife, a son, and an infant daughter. The Russian Army has denied there are foreign mercenaries fighting in Ukraine.

There are said to be at least 700 Nepalis in the Russian Army who have been attracted by the promise of a much higher salary and Russian citizenship.

Among those killed are: Kundan Nagal and Bharat Shah, Pritam Karki of Syangja, Raj Kumar Roka of Dolakha, Sandip Thapaliya, Rupak Karki of Kapilvastu and Ganga Raj Moktan of Ilam.

Four Nepalis in the Russian Army have been captured by the Ukrainians, and Nepal is working with the ICRC to bring them home. Pratik Pun of Dang, Siddharth Dhakal of Kavre, and Bibek Khatri of Bardia were all captured in Ukraine in the past three months.

The Nepal government announced that Nepalis going to Russia on tourist visas now need no objection certificates from the Consular Department. About 10 agents who were involved in sending the Nepalis to the Russian Army were arrested last week. But the traffickers simply moved to Dubai and are recruiting Nepalis there. 

Among them was Ram Chandra Khadka from Rukum who saw action as a Maoist guerrilla in the battle of Khara in 2002. Khadka, 36, was approached by traffickers in October and sent to Bakhmut where he was injured, and is now being treated in a Moscow Hospital. 

Several Nepalis have paid the same traffickers who took them to Russia to bring them back after deserting the Russian Army.  They have spoken of poor treatment, not being paid the promised salary and dangerous conditions. They said the Russians were now trying to prevent desertions.