Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Family of Kashmiri man deceived into joining Russian army appeal for assistance in bringing him home

Raja Bano shows Azad’s picture on a mobile phone. [Photograph: Umar Farooq]

“Take me back home,” Azad Yousuf repeated over a video call on WhatsApp to his brother. The 31-year-old is a resident of Poshwan village of Awantipora in Kashmir’s Pulwama District, who was lured into a job scam by a YouTuber and forced to join the Russian army, fighting Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Azad is among the 12 Indian citizens who were scammed and forced to join Russia’s mercenary army. He was accompanied by another Kashmiri man, Zahoor Ahmad Shaikh, a resident of Northern Kashmir’s Hajinar village in the Tangdhar area. According to a report, the Russian Army has hired about 100 Indians at its recruitment centre in Moscow over the past year.

Azad’s family is reaching out for all means of help to evacuate Azad safely from Russia. A month after he left Kashmir, Azad became a father.

He Left home on December 14 last year to join as a cook cum kitchen helper in Dubai. The family spoke to him for five days, before he told them that he would be out of contact for 10-15 days.

After remaining disconnected from the family for many days, a call from Azad informed the family that he had been scammed and forced to join the Russian Army. He said that he was forced to sign a contract in Russian.

“We were sent here to die,  I have to carry a 24-kilogram gun. In a misfire incident my foot was also wounded,” Azad informed. Since then, his mother has been requesting government intervention and evacuation. 

“He is just 2 kilometres away from the actual Line of Control between Russia and Ukraine”, claims cousin sister of Azad. “Days before, when I saw Azad on video call he was wearing a full army uniform,” she added.

Azad has told the family that he was banned from using his phone. If they find him with the phone, they will shoot him. Azad currently uses some buildings’ Wi-Fi.

“I’m bearing the current harsh weather conditions. From two water bottles for 24 hours to minus temperature. I’m battling every day and longing to come home soon,” Azad told his family in a WhatsApp voice note.

Azad’s family points at Faisal Khan, also known as Baba Vlogs, who runs a YouTube channel from Dubai. With over 300,000 subscribers, his channel mainly features short vlogs where he shares updates about job opportunities in different countries.

Some two years ago, when the Russia-Ukraine war began in full swing thousands of people were displaced and thousands of people were killed in the ongoing conflict. Official figures suggest at least 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed.

Brother of Azad, Sajad Yousuf Kumar said that the Deputy Commissioner of Pulwama, Concerned Police Station’s SHO, SSP contacted him over the phone.

Sajad Ahmad Kumar shows a screenshot taken during a video call that shows Azad in army uniform. [Photograph: Umar Farooq]

“Apart from the official phone calls, CID and other agencies visited our home and took the reports and told us they are working on bringing Azad back to Kashmir,” Sajad told Maktoob.

Wailing constantly, Azad’s mother is requesting authorities and civil society to help the family get their injured son back. “These two and half months have been very tough for me,”  says Raja Begum in a low tone.

The Family has written to both embassies, the Indian embassy in Russia and the Russian embassy in India and informed them about the scam that landed Azad in Russia. The family has further requested the Embassy to help Azad and make his return possible. But there has been no help in sight to date.

“We have received the auto-generated replies only,” says Sajad in disappointment. 

Meanwhile, The Jammu and Kashmir Students Association (JKSA) has reached out to the External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and LG Sinha, urging them to assist the families to make the safe return possible. 

The Association has further said, “Azad was misled by a fake job offer and ended up being forcefully deployed with the Russian army, without his consent”.

“We also approached the Red Cross Society in Srinagar but no help was in sight. Finally, the news was out, and people came to know about it”, says his father. 

All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader and MP Asaduddin Owaisi has urged the external affairs ministry to bring back the Indians trapped in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Umar Farooq
Umar Farooq
Umar Farooq is an independent journalist based in Kashmir.

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