Indians killed in Ukraine were forced to fight for Russia, families say

By Sakshi Dayal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - When Mohammed Asfan from India's Hyderabad city travelled to Russia to work as a "helper" in the army, his family never imagined he would end up fighting in the Ukraine war, much less die there.

Asfan is among several Indian men who, their relatives say, were lured to Russia with the temptation of lucrative job opportunities, only to be forced to fight at the front against their will.

India's foreign ministry has said that every such case brought to its attention has been "strongly taken up".

"We have an understanding that something like 20-odd people are stuck, we are trying our level best for their early discharge," Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said last week.

The Russian foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It was a post on YouTube promising a job and permanent residence after six months that led Asfan, previously a manager at a clothing store, to Russia, leaving behind his wife and two children, both under the age of two.

"He called us from the Ukraine border to tell us his passport had been seized and he was being made to fight...he asked for help but by then he was already stuck," his brother, Imran, said, speaking to Reuters a day after being informed of Asfan's death.

The Indian embassy in Russia, in a post on X, said efforts were being made to bring his body to India.

A similar YouTube recruitment video had lured Hemil Mangukiya, a 23-year old embroiderer from Gujarat, to Russia in December.

"Hemil was told he would work as a helper in the army and would be trained for three months, but after reaching (Russia) he realized he was being trained to fight," his father Ashwin Mangukiya told Reuters on Thursday.

The family found out about Hemil's death on Feb. 23, two days after he was killed, through a phone call from another Indian man who was fighting alongside him.

"We are still waiting for his body to arrive so we can conduct his last rites," the father said.

Seven other men, in videos circulating on social media, have sought New Delhi's help in returning from Russia, saying they went there on tourist visas but were forced to join the army or face 10 years' imprisonment, local media reported.

India's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the videos.

Tens of thousands of soldiers have died on both sides since Russia invaded neighbouring Ukraine in Feb. 2022 in Europe's bloodiest land war since World War Two, which Moscow calls a "special military operation".

(Additional reporting by Krishn Kaushik)