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Families of Indians duped to fight for Russia seek President’s help

POSHAWAN (PULWAMA): Raja Banoo continues to be in a state of despair and shock. For the past twelve weeks, she lives in constant fear that any moment someone will call the family to say that something awful has happened to her son Aazad Yousuf Kumar.

Before any serious, bad, or life-altering news reaches the family, she and other members want President Droupadi Murmu to step in and help them out. “Being a mother herself, she alone can feel my pain,” said Banoo sitting with her sister-in-law on the carpeted floor in the corner of a dark room of their picturesque village house located on a slope, about 25-km east of Pulwama town.

As Banoo was sobbing her heart out, her older son Sajad Ahmad told this newspaper, “She (President Murmu) is our last hope. She can use her reach of influence to bring Aazad and others who have come under the clutches of death back unharmed.”

Aazad, 32, is among over thirty Indian nationals who have allegedly been duped to fight against Ukraine alongside the Russian army. Their families have claimed that they were lured by a YouTube video posted by a Dubai-based recruiting agent Faisal Khan that charged them huge amounts on the pretext of getting them jobs as ‘helpers’ in the Russian army and promised them a lucrative salary ranging from ₹ 200,000 to ₹ 300,000 and permanent residency in Russia after six months.

“Instead, they were pushed in the jaws of death in the Russian-Ukraine warzone. Aazad is in a group of five Indians-four others being from Karnataka- who are currently deployed somewhere close to the Ukraine border and have been asked to be ready to fight,” said Ahmad.

In his last voice message to the family, Aazad said that three in the group received some papers last week indicating they might be sent home soon. “He said that he is not one among them and, once again, requested us to do something to get him out of there before it is too late,” Ahmad said.

In an earlier message received by Ahmad on his mobile phone, Aazad had said, “We are stuck up here on the Ukraine border. We came to Russia to work as helpers, but we have been duped to serve in the Russian army forcibly. Now we don’t know how to get out of here”. Khan has claimed that he did not betray them but he himself had been betrayed and that he has been in touch with their families and is very much involved in the effort to bring them back.

The single-entry visa issued by the Russian Federation to Aazad shows the purpose of travel as “tourism”. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had last month busted a pan-India human trafficking network and found that handlers from Rajasthan, Kerala and some other parts of the country were sending farmers and youth looking for overseas jobs to Russia via the Dubai route. But many of them were actually being duped into joining the Wagner Group, a Russian state-funded military company. The CBI after registering a case under sections of cheating, criminal conspiracy and human trafficking took up investigations. “Someone called up from Delhi the other day and said he is from the CBI. He took all the details on how Aazad fell in the trap. Those involved in the rip-off must face law, but our immediate concern is that Aazad and others must return home unharmed,” Ahmad said.

Among over thirty Indians allegedly duped by the recruiting agency, two including Aazad are residents of Jammu and Kashmir. Their families say that they had signed employment agreements to work as “kitchen helpers” in Russia but after their arrival in Moscow they were forced to undergo weeks of military training and then taken to the Ukraine warfront. The authorities in Delhi have confirmed that one of them, Hemil Ashwinbhai Mangukiya, a 23-year-old youth of Surat in Gujarat, was killed in a Ukrainian airstrike in the Donetsk region on February 21. Indian Embassy in Moscow on March 6 confirmed the death of another Indian – 31-year-old Mohammed Asfan, a resident of Hyderabad in Telangana state who too was allegedly forced into joining the Russian army and fighting against Ukraine. Asfan’s brother Mohammed Imran had claimed that the agents, one of them being Faisal Khan who has an office in Dubai and runs a vlog called Baba Vlogs and two others from Mumbai, had taken ₹300,000 each from the youth.

MEA spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal had in his last statement on the issue confirmed that several Indian nationals have been duped to work in the Russian army. “We have strongly taken up the matter for the early discharge of such Indian nationals. Strong action has been initiated against agents and unscrupulous elements who recruited them on false pretexts and promises,” he had said, adding, “We, once again, appeal to Indian nationals to not be swayed by offers made by agents for support jobs with the Russian army. This is fraught with danger and risk to life”.

The Central government has reaffirmed that it is committed to the early release of the Indian nationals serving as support staff with the Russian army and their early return home.

Banoo said that when her son realised where he had been pushed in, he pleaded with his parents and brother to get him out of there. “He was not sure at all where he was being taken to and we did not know how to bring him back,” she said. Aazad’s father Muhammad Yousuf Kumar said, “My daughter-in-law’s fears make me feel helpless and feeling helpless makes it hard to cope. My heart sinks when I look at their four-and-half-month-old son. Please, do something.”

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