Ethiopians hope to fight for Russia in Ukraine

STORY: Drawn by rumors on social media, queues of hopeful men have been forming outside the Russian embassy in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa.

Their hope? To enlist to fight for Russia in Ukraine.

What began as a trickle of volunteers swelled over two weeks to scores, two neighborhood residents told Reuters.

Among them was 40-year-old security guard Biniam Woldetsadik - a retired soldier.

"The reason I want to go to Russia is not to fight Ukraine but because I am not benefiting from my country. I'd rather be a national of a different country."

There is no evidence that any Ethiopians have been sent to Ukraine, nor is it clear if any ever will be.

On Tuesday, Reuters reporters saw several hundred men registering with Ethiopian security guards outside the embassy.

The guards recorded their names and asked for proof of military service.

By Wednesday, the number had dwindled to around 20.

The Russian embassy did not respond to questions from Reuters about whether Russia was deploying Ethiopian volunteers to Ukraine.

It issued a statement on Tuesday saying that the Ethiopians who showed up outside the embassy were well-wishers expressing "solidarity and support for the Russian Federation."

The Ethiopian foreign ministry welcomed the Russian statement for what it called "refuting the unfounded reports of recruitment for the Russian Armed Forces" but did not respond to Reuters questions. Neither did the Russian foreign ministry.

Many parts of Ethiopia are riven by conflict and annual inflation hovers around 30%.

Men in the queue said they'd been drawn by rumors of monetary incentives on social media and the possibility of work in Russia after the war.

Such as trader Leta Kibru.

"I am willing to leave Ethiopia to support the Russian government in whatever way I can. I want to go and fight along Russians now and in future."

He said he had heard about a $2,000 payout from friends who had registered before him.

Two others in the queues this week said they had seen posts on Facebook saying the embassy was signing up recruits.

Reuters was not able to find any posts on the subject from official sources or confirm any such offer.

Ethiopia has called on all sides in the war to exercise restraint.

It did not vote on a U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning the February 24 invasion of Ukraine which Russia calls a "special operation".

Many in Ethiopia have voiced solidarity with Russia, which has enjoyed close relations with the Horn of Africa nation since the Soviet era.

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