d8lq3hp punjab youth claim stuck in russia made to fight ukraine

Family of the men who claim to have been forced to fight Russia’s war appeal to government.

New Delhi:

A group of young men from Punjab and Haryana have appealed to the government for help, claiming they were tricked into military service in Russia and have been sent to fight Moscow’s war on Ukraine.

In a 105-second video circulated on X (formerly Twitter) seven men are seen wearing military-style winter jackets with hoods, or skull caps. They are standing inside a dingy and dirty room with a closed (and locked) window at one end. Six of them are huddled in a corner while the seventh – 19-year-old Harsh from Haryana’s Karnal  – records a video message explaining their situation and asking for help.

NDTV understands the men left for Russia on December 27 – to celebrate the New Year there. They had a visa for the Russia trip – valid for 90 days – but then travelled to neighbouring Belarus.

“An agent offered to take us to Belarus… we were not aware we needed a visa. When we went to Belarus (without a visa) the agent asked us for more money and then abandoned us. The police caught us and handed us over to Russian authorities, who made us sign documents,” Harsh claimed in the video.

“Now they (Russia) are forcing us to fight in the war against Ukraine.”

Harsh’s family has told NDTV the young man had also sought employment abroad, and was reportedly told that it would be easier to emigrate to a country of his choice if he went via Russia.

“My son went abroad on December 23. He went in search of work and was caught in Russia, where his passport was snatched away. He told us they had been caught by Russian soldiers who threatened him with 10 years of jail and recruited him. He said he was forced to do military training,” his mother claimed.

“I want the government to bring my son safely home,” she appealed.

Harsh’s brother claimed he was given weapons training and deployed to the Donestsk region. “It is difficult to say if he will be alive now or not,” he said and made a similar appeal to the government.

Another man in the video is believed to be Gurpreet Singh, whose family has also appealed for help.

His brother, Amrit Singh, told NDTV the men had been “forced” into military service. “They were forced to join the army there since the documents which they signed in Belarus were in the Russian language. It said they either accept imprisonment for 10 years or join the Russian army,” he claimed.

Belarus – dependant on Russia for political and economic support – is seen as one of Moscow’s closest allies; the Kremlin used its territory as a staging ground for its invasion of Ukraine. Since then, regular joint military drills have led to concerns Minsk could be prepping for a more active role.

The seven men in this video are among nearly two dozen who are reportedly stranded in Russia, or are on the frontlines of the war. All say they were tricked into active military service.

Last week, the External Affairs Ministry said it is in contact with others similarly trapped, among whom is Azad Yousf Kumar, a 31-year-old man from Jammu and Kashmir. Days after his “enlistment”, Kumar was reportedly shot in the foot while in a combat situation.

READ | 2 Kashmiri Men Cheated, Forced To Fight In Russia’s War

There are also reports at least 10 Indians – from Karnataka, Telangana, and Uttar Pradesh – have found themselves in similarly distressing situations; they were sent to Russia on the pretext of jobs as security guards or labourers. The agent who tricked them also extracted Rs 3 lakh from each.

READ | Promised Jobs, At Least 10 Indians Duped Into Fighting Russia’s War

Last month the government said it is aware some Indians had become caught up in Russia’s war on Ukraine, and said it is working with its counterpart in Moscow to facilitate their release.

Many Indians were reportedly promised support jobs but pushed into enlisting; they were allegedly given misleading translations of documents and forced to undergo military training.

READ | “We Are Aware”: Centre On Indians Forced To Fight Ukraine War

“We are aware… the Indian Embassy has taken up their early discharge with the relevant Russian authorities. We urge all Indians to stay away from this conflict,” a government spokesperson said.

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