Hundreds of Sri Lankans Tricked Into Joining Russia’s Army in Ukraine, Officials Say

SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Hundreds of Sri Lankan citizens have reportedly been recruited to join Russia’s war against Ukraine—and many of them were tricked into it.

Officials announced the bizarre development on Monday, with one lawmaker telling the Sri Lankan parliament that most of those recruited were lured into the Russian army, and often using promises of generous pay and assurances they wouldn’t be placed into combat roles.

“We have received complaints from approximately 280” relatives of those recruited, public security minister Tiran Alles was quoted telling Agence France-Presse. Some of those 280 citizens are thought to have joined the Ukrainian military, though lawmaker Gamini Waleboda said the majority had been recruited for the Russian side.

The Sri Lankan defense ministry was forced to set up a special unit to gather information about its citizens winding up on the battlefield. Police have also arrested two retired army officers for allegedly funneling recruits to Russian mercenary groups.

Sri Lanka thus joins India and Nepal in falling prey to what appears to be an elaborate recruitment scheme by Russia’s military to entice citizens of poorer countries to take to the battlefield on the Kremlin’s behalf.

Investigators in India announced earlier this month that they had arrested four of their own citizens for trafficking “gullible youths” to Russia to be deployed in the war “against their wishes.” An organized network of traffickers used social media to “lure” the victims by promising them “highly paid jobs in Russia” that turned out to be combat roles on the frontline in Ukraine, the Central Bureau of Investigation said.

It was not immediately clear how many victims the trafficking network had already claimed, but investigators said some of them had been “grievously injured” as a result of the scheme.

Thousands of Nepali men have also been recruited to join Russia’s ranks, with recruiters making similar promises of high pay and an easy path to Europe, according to numerous reports. While Nepal’s government banned its citizens from traveling to Russia or Ukraine for work last January, trafficking networks have sprung up to keep the stream of recruits flowing.

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