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'Narrowly Escaped Death': How a Nepalese Soldier in Russian Army Returned Home

Nepal recently said that Russia has agreed to terminate contracts of Nepalese citizens serving in the Russian Army.

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Even serving in the Nepali Army for nearly 16 years could not prepare Ramchandra Shrestha – a resident of Nepal's Dolakha district – for what he was to face after joining the Russian Army in its ongoing war against Ukraine.

"I thought of joining the Russian Army after I saw videos of some of my countrymen on the frontline. They told me the salary was good (2.7 lakh Nepali rupees approximately). But the biggest lure for me was the promise of a Russian citizenship after a year of serving in the army."
Ramchandra Shrestha
Nepal recently said that Russia has agreed to terminate contracts of Nepalese citizens serving in the Russian Army.

"I thought of joining the Russian Army after I saw videos of some of my countrymen on the frontline," Ramchandra Shrestha told The Quint.

(Illustration: Chetan Bhakuni)

Shrestha joined the Nepali Army in 2000. After 16 years of service, he migrated to Dubai – and took up various odd jobs for the next seven years. In September 2023, he applied for a visitor visa – and went from Dubai to Russia via Kazakhstan.

But merely three months later, he "successfully managed to escape," along with three of his friends, to return to his homeland after he "had had enough."

What happened in those three months?

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'No Endurance Test, 15 Days of Training'

"Once I landed in Moscow, I requested a cab driver to take me to a military recruitment center for foreigners. After I identified myself at the center as a Nepalese citizen, they took me aside," he recounted to The Quint.

Shrestha said as part of the induction process into the Russian Army, his chest was measured, and a sample of his blood was taken for testing.

Nepal recently said that Russia has agreed to terminate contracts of Nepalese citizens serving in the Russian Army.

Shrestha said that at the recruitment center, he was made to undergo a blood test.

(Illustration: Chetan Bhakuni)

"I thought they would conduct an endurance test, but no such thing happened. Within three hours, the results of my blood tests came back, and I was sent off to a training center on the outskirts of Moscow," he said.

Shrestha recounted that he then underwent training on how to handle weapons for 15 days. After the training, he was told that his name was on the list of people to be deployed at the frontline.

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From Dubai to the Frontline in Russia

"I was deployed at a Ukrainian city called Tokmak. What really set my alarm bells off was that some of the foreigners deployed here did not even know how to handle a weapon properly. We would be given orders by a Russian commander about how we Nepalese and other foreigners would be at the front of the column, carrying rifles magazines, often in the dark," he said.

Nepal recently said that Russia has agreed to terminate contracts of Nepalese citizens serving in the Russian Army.

"What really set my alarm bells off was that some of the foreigners deployed here did not even know how to handle a weapon properly," Shrestha told The Quint.

(Illustration: Chetan Bhakuni)

"We were not allowed to carry any food or anything else. In fact, my Russian commander even threw away the toilet paper that I was carrying. And that is not all... when the enemy soldiers attacked us with gunfire, the Russian commanders would not allow us to go and hide in the bunkers. Instead, they would ask us to stand guard. Many a time, our fellow men would be wounded and cry for help. They would just abandon those who were seriously wounded," he claimed.

The Escape

Three months in, Shrestha could not bear serving in the Russian Army anymore – and devised a plan to escape. Three other Nepalese fellowmen joined him to return to their country.

"I approached an agent who had helped some other Nepalese like me escape. The agent said he would charge 2 lakh Nepali rupees per person. We had to plan carefully so as to not arouse any suspicion from the Russians," he said.

And then they left. With the help of human trafficker, they got out from Ukraine and crossed the border to Russia.

"In December 2023, the agent arranged for a civilian car to come pick us up. I had only enough time to gather my passport and escape. I was wearing a chappal instead of a shoe to not make our plan obvious."

"The agent had asked me to hide (my other) documents in my shoe, and so those got left behind. We reached the airport, and at the immigration (in Moscow), when the agent asked me for documents, I told them that they had gotten destroyed while washing my pants. They didn't ask much, and I caught a flight to Delhi. From there, I took a flight to Kathmandu," he said.
Nepal recently said that Russia has agreed to terminate contracts of Nepalese citizens serving in the Russian Army.

Shrestha returned from Moscow to Kathmandu via Delhi.

(Illustration: Chetan Bhakuni)

Shrestha believes he narrowly escaped death.

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'Unscrupulous Agents Duping Innocent Nepalese'

Shrestha's plight is shared by other Nepalese men who told The Quint that unemployment in their country has forced them to join the Russian Army. As per local news reports, about 2,000 Nepalese men have been recruited by Russia. At least 33 have lost their lives.

Suman Rai, 31, alleged to The Quint that an agent offered him a monthly salary of around 3 lakh Nepali rupees to work in the Russian Army.

A resident of Nepal's Khotang district, Rai's hotel business had run into losses during the pandemic. In July 2023, he visited a manpower office in Sukedhara, a suburb in Kathmandu, in search for a job. The agent, who he met there, explained to him that he only needed a visitor visa to obtain the job.

In August 2023, Rai got a 30-day visitor visa and travelled to Moscow via Dubai. Just like Shrestha, his training lasted two weeks after which he was sent to Ukraine to fight the war, he claimed.

Rai alleged that he was forced to sign a document, which was written in Russian, and almost immediately deployed on the frontlines in Donbas.

"Till the training, it was all okay. But once we were deployed on the field, there was little food and water. What made survival especially hard though was the language barrier. The commanders could not speak any other language other than Russian. They would forewarn us about enemy drones which we couldn't understand."
Suman Rai to the Quint

In October, Rai paid 3 lakh Nepali rupees to an agent who come back home. His friend in Russia helped him take a taxi 300 km from the Donbas region to Moscow for his flight back to Nepal.

"My brother-in-law who is working in South Korea sent me the money for my flight back home. I came back just before Tihar (Diwali)," he said.

Even Indians have been 'duped' by travel agents into joining Russia's war against Ukraine – with many still awaiting to return home.

You can read The Quint's exclusive coverage about the plight of these men here.

Earlier this month, a spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that India is seeking the release of its nationals who have been "duped" into serving in the Russian army.

"We have strongly taken up the matter with the Russian government for their early discharge," MEA spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said. "A case of human trafficking has been registered against several agents."

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What Action Has Nepal Taken?

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal and Minister for Foreign Affairs Narayan Kaji Shrestha claimed that Russia "in principle has agreed to terminate the contracts of Nepalese citizens" currently serving in the Russian Army.

Despite Nepal's repeated requests, the Russian side has not disclosed how many Nepalese are serving in the Russian Army, and how many have perished in it and are injured.

Amrit Bahadur Rai, a spokesman for Nepal's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told The Quint that what is making repatriation of such citizens is the fact that many of them have joined the Russian Army voluntarily.

"Many have joined the Russian Army voluntarily. For instance, Nepal has a treaty with India and the UK allowing its citizens to work in their armies. But we have no such agreement with Russia. However, the Nepalese state has not given up its responsibility to save its citizens. We are in communication with the Russian government to send back those serving in Russian Army and to stop recruiting Nepalese."

Meanwhile, Shiva Raj Adhikari, an economics professor at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, told The Quint that the government must do better at providing employment opportunities for such youths.

"Due to a lack of jobs, youths from Nepal have taken to migrating to Gulf countries and even nations like South Korean and Portugal often for menial jobs. The situation unfolding with these youths joining the Russian army is a result of that. The government has to do a really better job at stemming this brain drain."

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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