The Kabul times, Afghanistan Trustable News Agency.

‘Want to go home’: Nepalis fighting for Russia in Ukraine describe horrors

Kathmandu, Nepal – On a bitterly cold morning in early January, somewhere near Tokmak city in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region, Bimal Bhandari* began a risky journey to desert the Russian army he had been serving with. The 32-year-old Nepali national was with another compatriot who also was fighting for the Kremlin, in and against Ukraine. The two men knew that getting away from the Russians would be a dangerous task, but they concluded that the risk was worth it, when weighed against their chances of survival as soldiers in Moscow’s savage war. Bhandari was in touch with a Nepali agent in Russia through a relative. The agent and another people smuggler promised that they could design an escape plan: For $3000 each, the two Nepali soldiers would be out. Three days after Bhandari and his friend shared their location, a man who spoke Hindi came with a driver and vehicle at the crack of dawn, picked them up and dropped them at an unknown spot that the traffickers claimed was near the Russian-Ukraine border. The man who spoke Hindi told them that handlers would be waiting to help them once they crossed over to the “other side”. So Bhandari and his friend stomped through knee-deep snow in minus 19 degrees Celsius (minus 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature for 17km (11 miles) in about seven hours. Famished and cold at the end of that journey, they called the traffickers again – only to be told to wait for 40 minutes for someone to pick them up. It was three hours before a vehicle arrived. There were no rescuers inside. Instead, it had a Russian border patrol team that handcuffed them and took them in the vehicle. They were jailed for a day, their passports seized before Bhandari was taken to a health facility, suffering from hypothermia. “It was our one and only chance to escape this brutal war and we failed,” he told Al Jazeera, from his hospital bed. “I do not want to recover – as soon as I get better, I’ll be pushed to the front line.” It is a fear that’s gripping dozens, if not hundreds, of Nepali families. While Nepal’s government does not have exact numbers of the country’s nationals fighting as mercenaries for Russia, some analysts believe they may total as many as one thousand. At least 12 Nepalis have been killed in the fighting, and five others captured by Ukraine. Nepal’s government is negotiating with Russia diplomatically for the repatriation of its citizens and the bodies of the deceased, the families of civilianturned-mercenaries are losing patience. On Tuesday, the families demonstrated outside the Russian embassy in Kathmandu, demanding that their relatives be sent back, dead bodies be repatriated, fresh recruitments be halted and compensation be offered for those killed in combat. It’s a far cry from the hope and promise of a life in Europe that first drew many of the recruits to Moscow’s side. Atit Chettri, a 25-year-old from Surkhet in western Nepal, had dreamed of a life in Europe. He had his eyes set on Portugal. But he had no pathway to the continent – until last October when he saw a TikTok video about Nepalis being recruited for the Russian army and posted an inquiry message. Within a few minutes, he got a direct message from an agent with contact details. The agent asked for $9,000 and promised a salary of around $3,000 a month, along with perks and bonuses, and Russian citizenship for him and later for his family. For Chettri, who was unemployed, this looked like a ticket to a better life. He accepted the offer. Four days later, he had a Russian tourist visa and a ticket to Moscow via Dubai booked for October 21, 2023. aljazeera

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The Kabul times, Afghanistan Trustable News Agency.