September 14, 2023

Cubans Trafficked To Fight in Ukraine


Cubans Trafficked To Fight in Ukraine
Andorf Velázquez García and Alex Vegas Díaz, victims of trafficking, now trapped in Russia. Ricardo Robaina, Twitter.

On August 8, 17 people were arrested in Cuba in connection with a human trafficking scheme that tricked Cubans into going to Russia for "good-paying jobs" when, in reality, they were being sent to Ukraine to fight in Russia's war there. The operation was uncovered after two young men publicly announced that they were tricked.

The 19-year-olds Andorf Velázquez García and Alex Vegas Díaz were desperate to escape Cuba's economic and humanitarian crisis. The young men were offered contracts to work in construction in Russia by a Cuban salesperson known as "Diana" and two Russian women. There was no mention of Ukraine or the war in the contract.

Velázquez García and Vargas Díaz left from Cuba's Varadero Airport in the north of the island, from which Aeroflot operates daily direct flights to Moscow. The men claimed their flight had over 200 Cubans recruited under the same contract. América Noticias estimates that 6,000 to 7,000 men have left Cuba the same way Velázquez García and Vegas Díaz did.

Once in Moscow, a Cuban man in a Russian military uniform received the two men. They were assured they would be sent to a hotel, but wound up in a sports center under construction and received medical exams. As part of their package, both men received Russian citizenship. Velázquez García and Vegas Díaz said a woman completed the required language and history test for them. They were forced to wear military uniforms and receive training. Then, they got sent to the third line of defense in Ukraine. The monthly salary of R200,000 ($2,046) they were promised never came. Their bank accounts were emptied.

At the front, they received little food and were allowed to drink water only once a day. Both began having convulsions and passed out on the battlefield. One of them became sick with pneumonia. All their documents were taken away, and they reported being tortured. If they deserted, they would (as Russian citizens) face 30 years in prison. And returning to Cuba after speaking out against the government was too risky.

In an interview with the YouTuber Alain Paparazzi Cubano, who broke the story, the 19-year-olds begged, "I saw heads busted open... I didn't know what war really was... Please, don't come."

The Cuban government has openly supported Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Yet officials from the island have also said that "Cuba is not a part of the military conflict in Ukraine." The BBC has reported the presence of Cuban mercenaries in Russian trenches, as well as the victims of the trafficking scheme. The Russian government has not commented on the revelations.

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