The war is horrific, death lurks at every step!

Nepali man fighting alongside Russian army in Ukraine: "They are killing me, save me!"

Published On: May 18, 2024 09:10 PM NPT By: Arun Bam

KATHMANDU, May 18: Late Friday evening, Kritu Bhandari, an activist spearheading the 'Campaign to Save the Lives of Nepali Citizens' in the Russian Army, joined a WhatsApp group where an audio conversation was ongoing among a few participants.

Amidst the dialogue, a distraught young man expressed his fears, "Until yesterday, I had this thought that I came here knowing that if I have to die, I will. But this morning, when my daughter told me she had an exam, I suddenly realized that I have a family; if I die, they will be left with nothing!" he said.

He continued, imploring for help, "They will definitely kill me. Please, save me if you can. And if I may die, please ensure my body is returned to Nepal so my family can have some relief and compensation."

The man, identified as Hari Kumar Rai from Khotang, had previously supported his family through a 'rider' service in Kathmandu. 

Lured by friends and brokers, Rai left for Russia on September 5, 2023, carrying hopes inspired by Shailendra Rai of Khotang, who facilitated his journey with Rs 700,000. Along with him, seven other Nepalis also made the trip.

Rai joined the Russian army the day after arriving in Russia and was swiftly deployed to Ukraine. Among the team of 15 Nepalis he was with, he learned that two have already perished, and several others were injured.

"The war is horrific. Death lurks at every step," Rai said. "Enemy drones patrol the skies relentlessly. Just poking your head out invites danger. You never know when a bomb will drop on you."

As fear gripped his group, six attempted to flee but were captured, imprisoned, and brutally tortured. "When they tried to escape, it impacted everyone. Nepalis were segregated and mixed with Russian citizens, now we are all separated," Rai said.

The cost of language barrier, entire group killed 

Rai shared a close bond with a Russian drone operator. "We got along really well," he said. The two spent many days together on the battlefield and in shelters. "He was good at flying drones. We looked out for each other and survived for a long time," Rai said.

Their partnership was tested during a drone attack. "A Ukrainian drone chased us. I escaped, but it targeted him," Rai recalled. His friend seemed unharmed on the outside but couldn't move, hinting at serious internal injuries. "I thought he must have been hurt internally," said Rai.

After the drone left, Rai alerted their platoon commander and helped carry his friend to a shelter. Other soldiers joined to assist them.

At the shelter, there was confusion about his friend's condition. "The commander asked if he was ‘normal’. “Abnormal, I replied, because he was not in a good condition, maybe there was a language barrier and he misheard," Rai said, "They asked me to keep an eye on him every ten minutes, but did not take him for treatment.”

A few days later, Rai’s friend was found dead. "I was watching him. I don't know when he stopped breathing," Rai said. After his friend's death, the commander blamed Rai. "You said he was normal; how could he just die?" the commander questioned angrily. Since then, Rai's treatment worsened. "He stopped caring for me. I haven’t been given food, money, anything," Rai said, "I survive on whatever I can find in the forest. I’ve been hungry for many days.”

Rai also mentioned that the threats from the Russian army have become more direct and severe. "They talk in Russian about killing me. I can't speak the language, but I understand," he said. "For the past five days, they have been openly threatening to harm me physically."

He tried to seek help from the commander but was denied any contact. "The commander sleeps all day and does not visit. I have been unable to sleep for five days since hearing their threats," Rai said.

His situation has grown increasingly dire. "They have taken my weapons and uniform, and even burned my passport. All I have left is my mobile phone," he said.

Rai hears threats even while using WhatsApp; sometimes the threats are in Russian. He worries that his connection could be cut at any moment, and fears for his life. "They could kill me at any time. If I die, please make sure my message reaches everyone. Please arrange to bring my body back to Nepal," Rai pleaded. "My family will have nothing without me; please help them get relief and compensation."

Voices ignored by the state 

Rai, who ventured far from home to the battlefields, now finds himself hiding, threatened by the very forces he joined. Using WhatsApp, he shared his desperate situation with activist Kritu Bhandari.

Bhandari, deeply moved by Rai's plight, sought to raise the issue with key figures. She planned to contact Milan Tuladhar, the Nepali Ambassador in Moscow; Prakash Mani Paudel, Director General of the Department of Consular Services at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Buddhi GC, Public Relations Adviser to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, among others.

Reflecting on the dire circumstances, Bhandari said, "What an ironic situation we are in. On one side, unemployment crushes us, driving our youths into the jaws of premature death. On the other hand, our state lacks the empathy to even hear the cries of its dying citizens!"

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