Explained: Why Are Indians Dying Fighting For Russia In Ukraine War, How Is Indian Govt Dealing With Indians In War Zones?

At least two Indian nationals have been killed while fighting for Russia in the ongoing Ukraine War in recent months. Several Indians are still understood to be employed with the Russian military.

Ukraine War Russian Volunteers (Representative Image)

An Indian national from Hyderabad was killed on the frontlines of the Ukraine War earlier this month after being fraudulently recruited to fight from the Russian side.

While the Indian Embassy in Russia confirmed the death and identified the deceased, it did not mention the cause of the death or the fact that he was on the Ukraine War's frontlines from the Russian side.

The deceased has been identified as Mohammed Asfan. He is one of the two men from Telangana who have been recruited to fight from the Russian side in the Ukraine War. His death was confirmed by his family and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi.

Asfan is at least the second Indian national to have been killed on the Ukraine War's frontlines in recent month while being deployed in the region from the Russian side. Earlier in February, another man from Gujarat, identified as Hemil Mangukiya, was killed. The two men are among more than a dozen Indian nationals who have been mischievously recruited to fight from the Russian side in the Ukraine War. The Centre has taken note of the situation and has said it is engaged in resolving the developing situation.

In the wake of these two deaths and the fraudulent recruitment of over a dozen Indians for the Russian military, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Thursday cracked down on a human trafficking network, according to PTI.

Here we explain what we know about the Indians dying on the Ukraine War's frontlines, how Indian nationals have been duped, and what the Indian government has said about the situation.

What We Know Of Indians' Deaths In Ukraine War

At least two Indian nationals are so far known to have been killed on the Ukraine War frontlines. They are from Gujarat and Telangana.

Last month, it was learnt that Hemil Mangukiya, 23, from Gujarat's Surat was killed in a missile strike on the frontlines. He was deployed along with the Russian soldiers in the Ukraine War. His death was confirmed by his family.

Then, earlier this month, it was learnt that Mohammed Asfan, 30, from Hyderabad was killed on the frontlines. Just like Hemil, he was also deployed on the frontlines along with Russian soldiers.

The two, along with more than a dozen Indians, were duped to be inducted into the Russian war on Ukraine. On February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the invasion of Ukraine. While he hoped to overrun the country in weeks and topple the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and replace with his proxy, that has not been the case and Ukraine has fought the resolutely and now, in the third year of the war, it has turned into a grinding war of attrition and Russia has suffered huge losses. Throughout the war, the Russian military has substituted regular soldiers with mercenaries and irregular recruits like Asfan and Hemil.

The family of Asfan told The Indian Express that he was tricked into believing he was applying for a job as a helper in the Russian government offices, but was forcibly deployed to the Ukraine War's frontlines. His brother, Mohammed Imran, told the paper that he landed in Russia's capital Moscow in November and was deployed to the war after 15 days of training.

Before the family learnt about the death, it learnt that Asfan had suffered a leg injury. The NDTV reported that the family was told of the death of Asfan on the frontlines by Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi, who has been among the first prominent persons to raise the issue of Indians being duped to fight Russia's war on Ukraine with the government.

Asfan and Hemil —the Gujarat resident killed last month— were apparently around each-other on the Ukraine's frontlines. Separately, Hemil's family told The Express that Imran, Asfan's brother, learnt about Hemil's death and informed the family on February 23. According to the information with the family, Hemil was killed in a missile strike on February 21.

Until the news of Hemil's death, his family was not aware that he was deployed in a war zone, according to The Express, which further reported that the family was under the impression that he was working as a 'helper' in Russia.

"Someone who identified himself as Imran, a resident of Hyderabad, whose brother was also with Hemil, called us on Friday (February 23) at 6 pm and informed us about his death in a missile attack in the war zone. He shared details of the incident and we were totally shocked. We had a talk with Hemil on the night of February 20 and he was all fine. When we asked him about what kind of work he was doing, he did not reveal much," said Ashwin Mangukiya, Hemil's father, to The Express.

Ashwin further told the paper, "We have come to know that after working for a few days, he was told to sign a document written in Russian language and later he was inducted into the warzone with a rifle. He wanted to return, and had talked to the agents as well as his superior officers in the Russian military, but nobody listened to him."

How Are Indians Being Duped To Fight In Ukraine War

Indians are being recruited to be deployed on the Ukraine War's frontlines from the Russian side on the false pretence of jobs as helpers in Russia.


Nearly two dozen Indians have so far been recruited in this manner, of whom at least two have been killed. They have been offered high salaries. Once they landed in Russia or nearby Belarus where the regime is friendly to Moscow, they were handed to the Russian military.

While it is known that they have been deployed as part of the Russian war-efforts, it is not yet known whether these Indians have been recruited as regular soldiers of the Russian military or have been hired by private military companies like the Wagner Group that are part of the Russian war machinery on the Ukrainian front.


One common thread among several men duped into fighting Russia is a Dubai-based agent named Faisal Khan. He runs a YouTube channel named 'Baba Vlogs' that has over 3 lakh followers. Saiyed Salman, the brother of Mohammed Sufiyan, one of the three men from Telangana —including deceased Asfan— who are fighting for Russia in Ukraine, said that Sufiyan was also recruited by Khan.

The father of another man in Russia, Abdul Naeem, told that Khan was behind his son's deployment. The NDTV reported, "The agent had promised them high-paying jobs as security guards in Russia and had taken ₹ 3 lakh each from them. They had been taken to Russia in December last year, and then pushed into the war after being tricked into signing some documents in Russian."


The NDTV further reported that Indian men were posted after training in and around Ukrainian cities like Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Mariupol.

Asfan worked as a salesman and was offered an initial salary of Rs 45,000 a month extendable up to Rs Rs 1.5 lakh per month to work as a helper in Moscow. But that is not how it turned out to be. His brother Imran told The Express, "They were duped. The agent [Khan] who recruited them said they would work in Moscow only; instead, they were given 15-day training and dropped in Ukraine, where they are being forced to stay alongside Russian troops fighting the war...He, like the other youths, was promised a salary of Rs 45,000 per month for the initial three months, which would gradually increase to Rs 1.5 lakh. After working for a year, he could apply for Russian passport and citizenship. It was a lucrative offer and unfortunately they fell for it. Afsan left for Moscow on November 9."


Salman, Sufiyan's brother, told the paper a similar story: "He came in contact with an agent named Faisal Khan, who runs a YouTube channel, and was brainwashed into applying for this job in Moscow, saying he would never earn more...He was told the job was as a helper in a Russian government office. He was promised over Rs 1 lakh per month and citizenship after one year. He paid Rs 1.5 lakh as commission to the agent and came to India. The agent arranged flight tickets and Sufiyan left on December 17."

Another man, 23-year-old Gurpreet Singh from Punjab's Hoshiarpur, was travelling in Belarus after a trip to Russia when he was held by the country's soldiers and handed to Russians, according to the family account carried by The Express.


"The Russian personnel told Gurpreet he had broken the country’s laws by illegally entering Belarus, and threatened to jail him for 10 years. They seized his phone and other belongings and kept him confined. After he pleaded for several hours, the Russian troops connected him on the phone with a translator, who explained to him that instead of rotting in jail, he should join the Russian army as a helper. He was promised Rs 1 lakh salary and told that he would live and work in Moscow, but after two days, he was sent for training and is now at the frontlines. With bombs falling everywhere, he and the others are scared for their lives," said Gurpreet's cousin Sandhu to the paper.


How Is Govt Handling The Situation?

The Centre is aware of Indians being deployed on the frontlines of the Ukraine War. As per the government estimate, there are around 20 Indians deployed such and it is working to ensure their "early discharge".

"It is our understanding that there are 20 people who've gone there to work as support staff or as helpers with the Russian army. These are the people who have contacted us, and that is our understanding that this is the number that we have there...We are trying our level best for their early discharge," said the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal on February 29.


Jaiswal further said, "We've also told people not to venture into the war zone or get caught into situations which are difficult. We are in regular touch with Russian authorities both here in New Delhi and also in Moscow."

The news of Indians being duped to fight the Russia's war against Ukraine and deaths of Indians in the war come at a time when the presence of Indians in war zones has come under scrutiny. Several Indians have also been recruited to work in Israel amid the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip. Ethical and safety concerns about such working arrangements have been raised. Earlier this month, an Indian national from Kerala was killed in Israel in a rocket attack by militant group Hezbollah from neighbouring Lebanon. Hezbollah is part of the broader Iran-backed coalition of militant groups opposed to Israel in the region.


In recent months, however, there have also been reports of several Nepali nationals being recruited by the Russians to fight against Ukraine.