For months, hundreds of Cubans have quietly left the island to fight for Russia in its war in Ukraine, chasing promises of money and Russian citizenship from shadowy online recruiters, CNN reports. Journalists talked to family members of Cubans who went to war.
Men like Miguel, who in July traveled to Russia and soon after was on the front lines of the war with Ukraine, his mother Cecilia told CNN. Cecilia said she was afraid of Russian reprisals against her son and asked CNN not to identify either one of them, and use pseudonyms instead of their real names.
After her son responded to a post on Facebook looking for Cubans to work as cooks and construction workers in Russia, Cecilia said two women reached out to him via WhatsApp.
"Cecilia said she overheard some of the calls and one of the women spoke Spanish in a Russian accent and the second woman was clearly Cuban," the journalists noted.
Within a week, Cecilia said, Miguel had signed a contract to work repairing infrastructure damaged in the war and the women had sent him a plane ticket to fly from the beach destination of Varadero to Moscow, his first trip outside the island. Aboard the plane Miguel told her he saw dozens of other young military age men who had been recruited, including two distant cousins, also heading to take part in the Russian war effort.
At first Miguel’s adventure seemed to be paying off. He texted his mother photos of the food he was having: pizza and ice cream sundaes. The next time they spoke by video call Miguel had his head shaved and was wearing a Russian military uniform, she said. Soon Miguel told his mother that he wanted to return home.
"He said he has seen wounded. That at the hospital people arrived missing arms and legs. He isn’t used to seeing that," his mother said.
Miguel complained of illnesses to avoid having to fight but his Russian superior officers did not accept his excuses. The last time Miguel spoke to his mom in September he said the Russian officers had taken away his phone as punishment and that he had had to bribe one of them to be able to call her. “He said ‘Mama I am on the front line in Ukraine.’ He’s there, where it’s dangerous,” Cecilia said.
"They are there to shield the Russian troops. They are cannon fodder," the woman said.
In early September, 17 people suspected of recruiting mercenaries for the war against Ukraine were arrested in Cuba. Before that, the Cuban Foreign Ministry reported that they were working to eliminate the network of recruitment of Cubans for the war. The mercenaries were recruited not only among Cubans living in Russia, but also among those living at home on the island.
Open recruitment threatens to deteriorate relations between Russia and its longtime Cold War ally. Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Cuba has repeated the Kremlin's propaganda about NATO's "military responsibility" for the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russia has sent Cuba more crude oil and promised to increase investments.
The Cuban ambassador to Russia said that his country was not against "legitimate" participation in the war against Ukraine, but Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla reiterated that Cuban citizens are not allowed to fight abroad under any circumstances.