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‘Bullet in my head’: The Indian man who crawled to escape Russia’s Ukraine war

Prince Sebastian had not signed up to fight for Vladimir Putin’s army. All he wanted was to escape poverty in India. Now he’s back home – and back where he started.

Thiruvananthapuram, India – A tangled gun strap almost cost Prince Sebastian his life.

It was 6pm local time on February 4. Prince and his contingent of soldiers fighting for the Russian army were advancing towards a battlefield in Luhansk in occupied Ukraine. It wasn’t what Prince – a fisherman from the southern Indian state of Kerala 5,470km (3,400 miles) away – had signed up for, but at that moment, he felt he had no option but to keep moving, a Russian soldier by his side, the frantic symphony of gunfire their unwelcome soundtrack.

Suddenly, there was chaos as they came under attack, a hail of bullets fired in their direction. A superior barked out orders, asking the soldiers to fire back. But in the split second that Prince lost because of the tangled strap, a bullet ricocheted off their Russian tank with a sickening thud and pierced his left ear, flooding his mouth with blood.

“I crumpled onto a dead Russian soldier,” Prince recalls. “I was hit, but there was no pain, it was numbness for a few seconds.”

When he slowly came to his wits, Prince began a long, 3km (1.8 miles) crawl through mud and an even longer fight to escape Russia’s army. Now, two months later, he is back home in Anju Thengu, a coastal village near Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram, safe from the war he had found himself trapped in.

But as the lean 24-year-old recalls the horrors that he managed to leave behind, he knows he has returned to the very life he had tried to get away from when he went to Russia: one of poverty, joblessness and an uncertain future. He’s back where he