‘Want to go home’: Nepalis fighting for Russia in Ukraine describe horrors
They were lured by the promise of $3,000 paycheques and Russian citizenship. Now they’re trapped, wounded or dead.
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.